how do you learn what types of jobs exist?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

When you’re trying to make a major career pivot, how do you even learn what sort of jobs are out there?

For context: In 2014, I enrolled in a seven-year grad program with the goal of becoming a college professor. I was passionate about teaching, but I am being very literal when I say the lack of work-life balance nearly killed me. I ultimately dropped out in 2021 with no degree (but seven years of experience as a writing teacher) and began searching for a job that would be, well… just a job, and not an all-consuming identity.

After a few months of fruitless job-searching (and with my savings dwindling), I happily took an entry-level retail job in August 2021 and got promoted within four months! But now they’ve slashed hours so badly that I’m regularly being asked to be a one-man department. I feel like I’ve just traded one form of dysfunction for another, and I want out.

My problem is that I don’t know where I go from here. Even putting aside the limitations of my resume, I genuinely don’t know what jobs exist in my area or how I begin finding out without a strong professional network. I’m overwhelmed by the amount of ads and websites asking me to sign up to view job listings. And I don’t know how to filter for what I want — a highly structured job where work will stay at work, tasks will be clearly communicated, feedback will be given regularly, and no one will ask me to do the work of five people by myself — because I don’t care what the CONTENT of that work is, and that seems like the main way most people job search. How do I go knocking on doors when I don’t know where to find them?

Readers, what’s your advice for this particular person but also more broadly — how would you recommend anyone approach a job search when they’re not sure what types of jobs exist and what they should be looking at?

Read an update to this letter

{ 395 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I’m going to note this above too: while I’m sure this letter writer will get advice specific to their situation, advice on this question in general (not just for this particular person’s background) will make it helpful to a broader range of people!

  2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Technical writing seems like a reasonable choice — there are jobs out there, of varying levels of dysfunction. If you learn to do API writing, that’s a skill that’s particularly in demand.

    1. Fleebers*

      That really depends on whether LW has a technical degree. As a degreed writer, I can confirm that nobody will interview me for technical writing jobs because I’m not already an engineer/software developer/bioinformatics pro/etc. If LW’s degree is in something medical, chemical, biological, or engineering, they are set. If LW’s degree is in classics, technical writing might be well within their scope, but trying to get in the door for an interview might be more difficult than finding an easier fit.

      1. Lyudie*

        It’s possible things have changed since I got my BA and my company is an outlier, but most or all of the technical writers in my company and most of the writers I’ve worked with over 20 years have not been technical people to begin with. You can learn the tech, enough to write about it, and you have (one hopes) subject matter experts to help with the details to ensure it’s accurate.

        1. Lyudie*

          I should add, that is not to discount your experience but I don’t think that’s universal. The industry you are looking in probably factors into how much subject matter experience you need going in.

      2. aveline*

        My experience has been along the same lines as Fleebers. Graduate degree in writing and no luck getting technical writing interviews. Granted, this was during the time when the economy was (very slowly) recovering from the recession and I had limited work experience coming out of school, so that may definitely skew my perception. I do think technical writing positions are definitely worth going for.

        I’d also say admin roles are particularly suited to academics, at least (again) in my experience. Admins are invaluable across lots of fields–state, local, and federal government; universities and community colleges; certain library systems; heath care systems; law offices; etc.

        1. Squirrel Nutkin*

          I’d maybe stay away from admin roles at universities/colleges if you’re looking for work/life balance, though. At my school, they treat the administrators like they own them.

          1. Lyn*

            I’ve been an Admin at a community college for over ten years. It’s a great job and I can count the number of times I’ve had to work overtime over the ten years on the fingers of one hand.

            1. Ask An Event Manager*

              I concur with Lyn. I have terrific work/life balance at my Level 1 research university and I am a department of one that does all the events for my School.

              We are actively discouraged from accruing overtime, not because they are stingy or don’t want it noticed, but because we aren’t curing cancer or sending people to Mars – they’re having dinner or giving a lecture. The “urgency” can always be handled later.

              (That said, I don’t think my position should be eligible for OT, but that’s a different discussion…)

        2. JoAnna*

          I have a Bachelor’s in English and a minor in technical communication, and I was unsuccessful in finding technical writing rolls. They all wanted a technical background in addition to writing education/experience.

          If I could do it all over again, I would get a bachelor’s in a IT field instead of English. (My goal was to be a writer/editor, but of course the pay sucks and good jobs are hard to find.)

      3. Mimi12*

        I am a tech writer in software and have a BA in English and Creative Writing. Having no STEM background has definitely kept me out of bio and medical tech writing, but it’s been a very minor or completely nonexistent obstacle for software tech writing.

        1. H.C.*

          Also English (+ Comms) BA, but not having a STEM degree is not dealbreaker for bio/medical writing (I built my portfolio in that area from entry-level jobs with PR agencies where I wrote/edit a lot of copy for various healthcare clients.)

        2. fluffy*

          As someone who works in software, I actually prefer technical writers who aren’t so immersed in the technology that they have a hard time explaining it in ways that don’t require also being on the development team. Being able to work with engineers to make something understandable to folks outside the team (whether they’re engineers or not) is an important skill.

        3. it's me*

          That’s been my experience as well. I’ve been a tech writer in software for almost twenty years and I’m not an engineer nor do I have any coding experience. BA in Journalism.

      4. FGW*

        I’m a technical writer, editor, and now in charge of QC’ing products without a technical degree. Depends on the field.

      5. Meep*

        Thanks for this tidbit. I have a BSE and getting my Master’s in Engineering Management. I was thinking about getting an Associates in Technical Writing as a fun padding because a lot of engineers suck at writing in general and my engineering field, while highly desirable is a bit niche.

      6. Well...*

        I don’t think so, my sister is a technical writer and she only has degrees in English and writing. No science background.

      7. No Dumb Blonde*

        I am a technical writer, and I do not have a technical degree. I have a Latin degree and worked in newspaper and journal publishing for awhile out of college, doing advertising layout, copy editing, etc. Then I took a seemingly unrelated job at a health insurance company’s membership department, and was quickly promoted to trainer because I learned their system quickly. My job was to teach people to use the proprietary membership/premium billing/claims/customer service management software system, AND to write and maintain documentation for it. Later I took a similar job working for a government contractor that developed and managed a complex eligibility system. I acquired enough technical knowledge there to become a business analyst, which required writing a lot of deliverables. Twenty-five years later, I’m still doing that for a government agency, plus a lot of web design / UI design. Technical writers can find a home in many technical and professional fields; the only thing is you have to love designing forms, user manuals, and that sort of thing. I do. Simplifying technical or legal information into something a layperson can understand is a challenge that I really enjoy.

    2. Anonymous Koala*

      I was going to say this! Technical writers are needed everywhere, and I’ve seen quite a few remote positions advertised recently in public and private sectors. Otherwise remote customer service or support jobs might be a good fit for you. In my field (hard science) LinkedIn is a great resource for finding positions in your area. It’s not comprehensive but it makes things really easy. It sounds like OP doesn’t want to sign up for sites before being able to peruse job listings, but I think they may have to sign up for at least a few of the popular ones (indeed, glassdoor, etc) to get an idea of what’s out there. It’s almost impossible to know what the work life balance of a company is before you join it, but sites like LinkedIn can also help OP do informational interviews with current/past employees to get a feel for the culture.

    3. Mbarr*

      Honestly, tech writing isn’t a bad idea. There are so many niches of tech writers – and not all of them require specific expertise – as long as you can write properly, you can gain an entry level job for basic tech writing roles.

      This is what happened to me – I got a job as a tech writer, then discovered I’m not excited about tech writing… But by then, I had experience with our tech writing software and was our go-to person for problems with it. I transitioned to an official role where my job was helping the team and working with the software devs to make improvements.

      After I eventually got laid off, I had the skills in learning new software and training people on how to use it, and got to transition to a different company and help with their software (of which I only had 1 month’s experience on). That’s kind of my niche now – learning new software programs and helping teams build processes to help them use it better/more efficiently.

      If nothing else, try to get entry roles in big corporations – you’ll get exposure to all the departments there and you’ll learn what jobs exist. Without my first tech writing job, I wouldn’t have encountered so many people (other tech writers, devs, procurement teams, finance teams, etc.).

      1. Not Today, Friends*

        ” learning new software programs and helping teams build processes to help them use it better/more efficiently”

        Oh my god you have my dream job!!!

    4. Trawna*

      A slight segue from technical writing — proposal coordination:management for big consulting firms (accounting; engineering). You need s combination of writing, management and visual/artistic skills. There are long hours at times, but the work tends to stay at work, partly because you work with different combinations of people with each three-four week deadline.

      I found this niche way back when via a recruiter. It’s different times, but my general advice to smart generalists, is to assess the skills/tasks, not the job title or industry. Specific to this posted, have they considered grant writing within academia?

      1. Sliver*

        LW, and anyone who comes from a university system, look at that university if you are still in the area. A lot of people in academics don’t realize (because they are being worked to death) that there is a thriving community of staff jobs, most of which are regular hours and have great benefits. You didn’t get the grad degree, but you have a lot of teaching experience at that university, which hiring managers will notice and will be likely to respect given the academic surroundings. You may also have access to your university’s talent network, where they could help you work on your resume and cover letters and even get you contacts for jobs there.

        I had basically the same experience in grad school and I wanted out of academia. I was convinced I just wouldn’t work at all, but happened upon a staff job (very luckily) at my university and applied. I’m in a different job at the same university now, in a totally different field, and I would have never thought I’d be qualified for this job except that I’d already been staff and I know the university likes to keep people on. I hope you are able to find something!

    5. Amalgamated Opinions Inc*

      Came here to say this! Check out the slack for job postings and lots of helpful folks!

    6. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      If you’re interested in digital products, there’s also UX (user experience) writing, where you work with designers and researchers to create sites that are clear and engaging to the user.

      1. Annie*

        This is what I was going to recommend. Regular writing (not with a specific domain) is exactly the right thing for tech. Learn some lingo and write some sample guides for apps you already use as a ‘portfolio’. and you’re good to go. I’d be happy to give some more details there, here or by email, as I started in UXR and am still in tech.

        1. Fleebers*

          I’d like to see those details – I just commented in Friday’s open thread about trying to break into UX and not having much luck yet!

    7. Cesira*

      I’ve faced major career changes and found that the local (US) Workforce Development or Career Services in my community had resources such as career counseling and would guide you to local opportunity listings. You don’t need to be unemployed to use these services. It’s a great place to go when you’re at the “What Now?!?” stage and you’ll come away with what you do or absolutely do Not want in a job/career.

    8. Tech Writer*

      Keep in mind that a lot of what companies are advertising as “tech writer” jobs these days also require coding. And, more and more often, they are contractor roles.

      This may be changing post-panini, but I haven’t seen that much evidence of it out there.

    9. Baroness Schraeder*

      Is tech/medical writing reasonably well paid? I have degrees in communication and biomedical science as well as a background in backend website development so it seems like I shouldn’t have trouble getting this kind of job.

      However I also have ADHD (if that’s not evident from the above sentence) so I struggle a LOT with actually getting words out of my head and onto paper (she says as she scrolls AAM while procrastinating writing her PhD thesis) so I’ve always wondered if it’d be a good choice for me…

      1. Lyudie*

        Tech writing can pay pretty well…you won’t be making software engineer money, but you can do well. I don’t know that ADHD would rule you out, deadlines might be a challenge but if you have coping mechanisms/techniques for time and task management, it’s definitely doable. As for struggling to get words out of your head…it might be different than writing your thesis (having just finished my MA, I think my work writing is easier than class writing most of the time) but you are on deadline most of the time. Development cycles seem to get shorter and shorter all the time and that impacts the writers as well.

    10. MyySharona*

      I’m a technical writing manager with a work history in technical writing (user guides, manuals) and instructional design for software. I have an English bachelors and went to grad school for linguistics. Unless you’re writing for a technical audience, which can require some additional knowledge, most of the writing done in my team is translating technical drafts from engineering into something suitable for non-technical users.
      I would also highly recommend looking into UX Writing and microcopy. It’s always been relegated to designers, product, sometimes engineers, and as an aside for tech writers, but within the last 18 months it’s been emerging as it’s own role in more companies.
      The best part? UX writers get paid like designers (which is typically more than writers). I would look into any material online, there’s even some good stuff on LinkedIn learning (formerly Lynda). It’s all about building your portfolio, even with just practice mock-ups, and being able to explain your process and decisions.

  3. ExPhD*

    As another recovering academic, I recommend the VersatilePhD Career Finder. It lists all sorts of jobs and what they entail.

      1. exProf*

        +1 to using the PhD career exploration tools out there. A lot of them tackle specifically how to research careers outside the higher ed sector.

        When I transitioned out of academia as an English prof, the thing that helped me the most was self-reflection and self-examination in terms of the work I actually liked doing & the skills I had. I needed that piece first (so I started with my wishlist and skills, then went looking for jobs that might fit that by looking through companies I was interested, alumni on linkedin, checking regularly on the hiring page of companies I liked just to see what types of jobs they hired and what those were called, etc). From there, informational interviewing helps when you’re figuring out what the worklife balance is like in a particular career (you don’t always have to cold call people yourself though – there’s now a ton of podcasts, websites, and other resources who interview PhDs in non-academic careers and will put the interviews online)

        The resource I liked best was, which has both the reflection parts and the practical parts. It’s not for academics specifically, but worked really well for me. It has steps on how to go about researching different careers. There’s tons out there though – the university you studied at likely has a list of resources on their career center’s website. If your university doesn’t, a big university somewhere will probably have a list like this posted for free on their career centre.

        For some more Canadian content, you can find out more about the range of careers academics go into by looking at projects like TRaCE McGill or Papa PhD (interviews with PhDs), or the Adoc PhD Detectives project.

        Happy exploring!! It is definitely possible to find a job that has reasonable expectations. In my limited experience, for workload issues in careers that aren’t in the greedy professions it’s less about the career path itself and more about the specific job, organization, & manager/team.

    1. Butterfly Counter*

      Ooh! I was just looking for something similar the other day. I think academia will still have me for another few years, but it’s nice to see that there are sites that help those like me, who feel like they have a skill set and background that will keep them in one kind of job forever and ever, that can help with a transition.

    2. another_scientist*

      MyIDP is another good resource, which is a kind of workbook. Helps to reflect which parts of the jobs you like and dislike, and then search more about careers that play to your strengths or preferences. I feel like we always talk about how there aren’t enough academic jobs for everyone to succeed, but there is also a huge mismatch between what academic jobs a supposedly like vs the reality. But you might only learn about that reality very late in the game.

  4. R*

    Maybe think about doing some internships? So you can begin building that network, and also get a sense of what work you want and companies/industries you like.

    1. Jora Malli*

      Do internships pay a living wage?

      I’m considering a career change as well, and as an unmarried person, my income is the only income I have access to. I’ve thought about going back to school or applying for internships, but I have no idea how I would afford rent and food and car payments during that time.

      1. Meep*

        It depends on the field and your degree. I work for an engineering start-up and we pay fourth-year undergrads $20/hr, Master students $25-30/hr, and Ph.D. candidates $30-35/hr to intern with us – though mind you as contractors so they pay taxes.

        1. Velociraptor Attack*

          Paying interns as contractors seems really suspect. When I oversaw internships at a university, we didn’t have an engineering program so I never worked with engineers but especially at the undergrad level, I can’t imagine interns are doing a whole lot of work completely unsupervised.

          1. Meep*

            I mean it is definitely to save money, I will tell you that. And yes, you are right. The work received from interns is usually subpar tbh.

    2. AdequateArchaeologist*

      The hard thing is a lot of the time internships require you to be attached to an academic program (current student, new grad, etc). I looked into doing some internships after I graduated and realized I was going to have to claw my way into my preferred section of my field (museum work), but despite being a recent MS graduate I was disqualified for having completed my masters program. (Of course none of these internships were to be found when I would have qualified because of Covid, so that was extra irritating). My sister had a similar issue when she had to take 1 semester off for extenuating circumstances and her internship was yanked because she was not actively taking classes at that very second.

      And, depending on the field, the internships may be unpaid or low-paid. Which is not feasible for many people. (Hopefully OP is in a field where they have amazing pay for interns if they try to go that route)

    3. Meow*

      Can you get an internship as a non-traditionally aged college student? On the one hand, it seems like companies would love to pay intern wages for someone who doesn’t need to be taught how to use the copier, but I don’t think I’ve ever met an intern that wasn’t in their early 20s.

      (Speaking about office internships, not like, apprenticeships.)

    4. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      For internships don’t you usually have to be enrolled in school? This person dropped out of their degree and is not in school (at least that’s what I understood).
      Any internships I have seen have specifically stated that the person must be currently enrolled in a college program.

      1. R*

        Probably biased by my own recent experience, but we just went through a round of intern recruiting. We don’t require the candidates to be current students. Given the mess covid made internships in recent years, I think it’s only fair to consider a broader range of people. Can’t speak for other companies obviously! But the intern we are planning to make an offer to graduated a couple of years ago and is currently an adjunct teacher. I think he’s going to be great!

      2. 2Legit*

        I had a paid internship after graduating college. It was at an arts org, which I loved. I actually found it on CraigsList, of all places! I found two other jobs on CraigsList, both temporary jobs. I say approach CraigsList with caution, but know that there are some legitimate jobs there. (At least when I was job searching, there was.) Legit places will have an external website and lots of details so you can know it’s not a scam.

  5. ZSD*

    This is indeed a challenge!
    When I was looking to leave academia, I still wanted to work on a college campus, but in a staff position where I could be truly done with work every afternoon at 5 PM. I picked the university I wanted to work for (do you still live in the town where you went to school?) and just looked at that university’s staff job listings every day.
    What you’ll find is that universities have all different kinds of jobs: accounting, grant writing, grant administration, food services, student services, faculty services, groundskeeping…In some ways, universities are like cities in miniature, in terms of the types of jobs available.
    I applied for many different staff positions and eventually was hired for one. I hated that job, but in less than a year, I was able to move into a student services position that I loved, and at which I stayed for four years. Once you get *a* job at a university, it’s fairly easy to move into the job you *want*.
    So looking at university staff listings is one option to narrow your search while still viewing various types of jobs.

    1. AndreaC*

      I was going to advocate for this approach, too. When I was looking to change careers, I looked at large employers (like universities or hospitals) where there would be a variety of jobs and just clicked on whatever looked interesting.

      1. Consider criminal justice agencies*

        Other large employer options are police or correctional departments. I work for a correctional agency but never set foot in a correctional facility for work, and I’m sure the vast majority of people don’t think of that as an option. But we have those same kinds of jobs ZSD listed, plus others.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Government, federal, state, county, or city is similar. Once you get any job in the organization it is easy to move positions within it and there is a vast variety of job types

      1. Buffy will save us*

        I was going to recommend civil service as well. There’s all sorts of odd jobs within the system and a good chunk of them are 9-5 with benefits. I work in health care in the state system and even my job is.

      2. Sporty Yoda*

        This! State/local government is generally more secure than federal (government shutdowns are more likely to happen on the federal than local level), offers great benefits, AND depending on your sector are pretty consistently hiring for entry level jobs (not just high turnover for “obvious” reasons like burnout and terrible quality of life; things like retirement, including early retirement, needing to hire more people due to region growth, and that sweet sweet easy mobility).
        Fair warning, nepotism regulations can be pretty strict; I found out I was disqualified for a position because I moved in with my partner, who works for city government; “a roommate works for the city” was enough to knock me off the list.

        1. Anonymous worker bee*

          I work for a municipal government and while my employer definitely has some disfunction (for example they don’t worry about nepotism at all and elected officials are often at each other’s throats), for the majority of us “drones” it’s a great job, very nice benefits and perfect work/life balance.

          The last is only true if you don’t work for maintenance or DPW or similar departments which often end up requiring overtime, but most other departments (the ones LW would likely be interested in anyway with a background in writing) barely have an overtime budget and thus at 5 pm you stop working no matter what because they cannot pay you and do not want you trying to make a OT claim.

      3. Jaydee*

        I was going to recommend this too. Obviously there are some roles that have less work-life balance, but there are tons of jobs that have a consistent schedule, good salary and benefits, and you leave your work at work. Plus the ability to transfer between departments or agencies is high. So if you end up working for the Department on Llama Relations and realize it’s a hot mess with terrible management or it’s great but there’s no room to move up, you can probably find a comparable position or move into a higher role at the Department of Teapot Development or the Rice Sculpture Authority.

    3. Loulie*

      Along with the idea of universities having all kinds of jobs, have you considered that there are all kinds of teaching? I left industry for motherhood, then got back into the workforce through teaching at the college level. That does require at least a masters, but many teaching positions don’t require a PhD. What I found was that while I wasn’t likely to ever get hired at a top tier research university with my master’s, there was a fair amount of demand at small private colleges and community colleges. I get to teach, which I enjoy, and for the most part during the semester I’ve left work at work. Plus, while teaching at that level doesn’t have the prestige of a big name university, it also doesn’t have the stress and lack of work-life balance that high pressure environment feeds into.

      1. A Library Person*

        I second the recommendation to look into jobs at community colleges, even if you are burned out on academia. I loved the atmosphere of the community college I worked at- everyone was really invested in their jobs and in service to the students, and the workplace culture was fantastic. I wish that my personal circumstances at the time would have let me stay there indefinitely.

      2. Person from the Resume*

        I would not recommend this.

        Adjuncting problems have hit the community college level too in my area. Extremely hard to find a FT time job; have wait for someone to retire. Adjuncting is variable, employment is uncertain every sememester, no pay outside of the semester. No benefits. Low, low, low adjunct pay.

        LW could look into it in her local, but all the problems with academic jobs have filter down to the level

      3. D*

        Another good teaching/college/community college option is tutoring. I know someone who works as a tutor full time at a community college and it seems to have a good work life balance, set hours, and still uses a background in teaching

        1. Squirrel Nutkin*

          THIS might work — Writing Center tutors tend to have set hours and get to do the fun part of teaching (helping students) without the awful part (grading). Some tutoring centers pay quite nicely. (If you’re near NYC, you could try Baruch College, which is reputed to treat its tutors well and pay them well — I think you might even be eligible for benefits after a certain # of hours.)

        2. RolandTheHeadlessThompsonGunner*

          Private tutoring can also be a good option — some subjects can be rather lucrative (good SAT/ACT/MCAT/LSAT/GRE test prep tutors can pull $50-100/hr+ depending on location).

          That’s how I paid the bills through college, and for a bit after while I was looking to start my career.

      4. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

        A dear friend went from teaching into corporate training and from there into developing ‘train the trainer’ programs.
        I’m going to suggest something very very basic for OP’s actual question of how do I find other jobs, which is to take a look at the book ‘What color is your parachute?”
        It’s been around a long time and gets new editions regularly. Its exercises are designed to help people figure out where their skills and their interests meet.

    4. Public Sector Manager*

      This holds true for state employment too–once you get a job with one department, it’s easier to switch departments. You become somewhat of a known quantity because you’ve passed probation. When you go to transfer, it’s a low risk situation for you and the new department you want to work for. The way our civil service protections work is that if you lateral to a new department and don’t pass probation, you have return rights to your old office where you did pass probation. If you pass probation at the new department, then the new department becomes the department that has to offer you return rights. And since you have the same employer, you have the same pension and healthcare, if you lateral to the same position you don’t have to take a pay cut, and any accrued PTO comes with you. There is literally every job you can think of, except astronaut because my state doesn’t have a space program.

      There are so many state agencies you’ve never heard of that you would be surprised what’s out there. My department unfortunately doesn’t have the best work-life integration, but we hire people with technical writing skills and a strong language background all the time. Also, it’s relatively easy to promote if you’re willing to learn. We had an office messenger with a Masters in Physics. He was a messenger for about 7 months, promoted to office technician, then about 12 months after that promoted to staff analyst, and then about 15 months after that, promoted again to a new agency. One of our office managers just promoted to run a small department. I would say 80-85% of state jobs are just 40 hours per week, no weekends, no overtime, and a lot of benefits!

    5. Shoez*

      I second grantwriting (that’s what I do). It’s something every type of nonprofit field needs, so you can focus on education or literacy, but also using your writing skills. You can get practice by volunteering to do it as every church/school/nonprofit org needs this service, and once successful you can use that success to apply for new jobs that might have interesting overlap for leverage, like communications or fundraising. Development is often the most lucrative option of nonprofit jobs. It is a bit high stress because there are clear metrics and obvious failures but it’s rarely an emergency and should give you a 9-5 if you focus on institutional fundraising rather than individual donor stuff.

    6. Smithy*

      Depending on the where the OP is and the job market, large nonprofits beyond universities are also like this and can benefit from many academia adjacent qualities. Essentially, grants management, a range of writing based jobs, as well as research/policy & advocacy, etc.

      Within this larger advice, some hospitals may actually also be part of larger university systems or connected and again you’re looking at a range of jobs in the space of research assistant, fundraising, grant writing, etc. And while all of those are technically job titles on their own, in large universities, hospitals, nonprofits – you’ll have more more specificity in what those jobs do. That level of quantity and diversity of roles makes the opportunities to network and learn about different types of jobs so much easier.

      This is ultimately how I figured out what kind of fundraiser I wanted to be. In smaller organizations, you can have teams as small as one or two people to large institutions who have teams of hundreds in addition to assorted program/research managers who are responsible for the execution of grants but not counted specifically as “fundraisers”. Starting at a research hospital on a tiny study still managed to introduce to me to so much to better refine what I wanted to do.

      If you go this route, my major piece of advice is to really try to focus on securing a permanent role and not temporary or consultancies positions. A number of larger nonprofits/hospitals have rules for to view temps/consultants applying for permanent roles that can really range. Sometimes it’s a little leg up, sometimes it can make things tricky.

    7. lemon*

      Yup, I was going to recommend this approach as well. Working as staff in higher ed is much different (in a good way) than being a researcher in academia. Good work-life balance, for the most part, and kind colleagues. The psychological aspect of still being on a campus can be a little tough if you’ve still got conflicting feelings about leaving academia behind. And I’d say that career advancement can be pretty limited after a while– yes, it’s easy to move into other positions, but if you find something you really like working on and then decide that career growth means specializing in that area, in can be tough. But definitely a good place to get in, get a year or two of experience, and start growing a network that will set you up for other roles in the future.

    8. Santiago*

      Also – replying here because this is where it’s most relevant – large universities often have internal temp pools. This is a good way to get your foot in the door, possibly, as well.

      1. Anonymous cat*

        Hi! Could you say a bit more about this? What kind of temps? I didn’t know temp pools still existed!

  6. OhGee*

    “a highly structured job where work will stay at work, tasks will be clearly communicated, feedback will be given regularly, and no one will ask me to do the work of five people by myself”

    You can see hints of what kind of workplace you’re looking at within a job description, but most of this you are more likely to learn in the interview process or, unfortunately, once you have the job.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I don’t think you can filter fields or industries for the quality of “no one will ask me to do the work of five people by myself.”

      That’s bad business, often in a toxic environment, but it’s not limited to job types. Their are fields that pride themselves on how hard they work employees so you can skip those, but unfortunately I think anywhere can lose people and ask too much of employees if management allows it. I wouldn’t have pegged retail to have that problem because it’s hard to help/check out more than one customer at once, but then the LW experienced it.

      1. All Het Up About It*

        I agree that the “no one will ask me to do the work of five people by myself” is not field related. It is organization and sometimes even department related and it’s the luck of the draw on occasion. There might be certain fields you can find that are known for being overworked, but you are going to find unrealistic expectations in all fields, jobs, roles, etc.

        I think a great recommendation when you are trying to figure things out AND build a network is temping. Sign on with some temp agencies and try out jobs. Those are certainly going to be leave work at work jobs and can help you discover what you might be interested in and make connections/references/build your resume.

        1. Orchestral Musician*

          Seconded on the temp agencies! Find a few reputable ones and once you get a few assignments, you’ll get a better feel for the type of jobs you want to do. (In my years temping, I worked at a major science publisher, a locally-owned construction company, a headhunting firm for executives, an asset management company, a test prep company, and a few others before I took an assignment in higher ed administration, where I still am over a decade later. The jobs were all very different fields and different cultures.)

          1. Nayo*

            Temping is how I found my current job, which I’m very happy in! I had the same issue of just not knowing where to start, so I decided to look for lab work because that’s what I had experience in from college, and a recruiter from the agency recommended to me a somewhat different position that still hit a lot of the same notes as lab work (attention to detail, ability to follow SOPs, etc.) which was temp-to-hire. It might take a couple tries for OP but temping is a good option.

          2. Chinook*

            Thirding temp agencies. It is how I made the transition from teaching to office work when I found out that my licence wouldn’t transfer to another province without 2 more years of university (I was literally treated as if I had earned my degree in another country instead of another province). I lucked into getting a good placement officer who could translate my professional experience into transferable skills AND they had free on-line classes/activities to teach me computer skills.

            Be warned, though, that not every agency or placement officer can/will do this. For every agency that placed me, there were 2 or 3 others that I applied to that I heard nothing back from. But, by having a series of short term positions in different industries that still showed up as steady employment on my resume, I was able to figure out my strengths and weaknesses as well as what type of work environment I would succeed in.

  7. MuppetFeet101*

    Will be following closely as my mother has been looking for this. Personally, I joined a career coaching discord server and just started googling different opportunities. When it came down to it it was either recruiting or customer service at a bank. I chose recruiting because I wanted to have more of a career path. It’s not all sunshine and roses – many people dislike recruiters, and often with good reasons, but I enjoy it.

    1. DiscoNewb*

      I have Discord but I’m not too savvy at it yet. How does one find such a server? How does one know it’s reputable?

      1. MuppetFeet101*

        I searched for “job search servers” and found it that way. There are other career-specific ones too, from what I understand.

      2. MuppetFeet101*

        As far as how one knows it’s reputable, this one was linked to Reddit, but I’d look for anyone with authority on the subject. Once you’ve been on a few, you can sense which ones are more serious.

    2. Silvercat*

      I really appreciate good recruiters that do more than looks for any similar keywords to throw resumes at a job. I have my current job due to a recruiter and I’m really happy with the agency I worked with.

  8. Cate*

    First of all, I think this kind of job is entirely achievable for you. But it’s almost harder now because you’re not in a place where you even vaguely know what you want, which means there’s not an initial direction – hence why I think you’re finding signing up for job listings overwhelming.

    If you’re looking for something junior, there are a lot of entry level positions at banks, etc., which in a big company gives you a good level of ‘ability to check out’, as long as you’re able to make it seem like you’re being checked in. I’m not sure if that would allow you to develop skills you currently have or may be interested in. If you don’t want to go in at entry level, I’d say you might again benefit from being a small cog in a big machine, but in an are that will allow you to capitalise on your current experience (maybe something involving proofreading? I don’t have a great view of this world, sorry!).

    I think it’s easier to be blinded by the ‘I don’t want this’, but I’m sure there’s something you’re interested in. Even being able to filter a little will help a little. Best of luck!

    1. Roscoe da Cat*

      Actually, they did an analysis of where PhDs wind up in the 80s (I think) and banks were the main spot.

  9. The Happy Graduate*

    The biggest thing that helps me learn more about a field is reaching out to people who are currently in it. Start off with a type of work that you can see yourself enjoying and figure out via google what related job titles would be and companies that use those positions. For example, if you enjoy writing and you were in STEM, look up “science writing careers” and see where that takes you. Then go to LinkedIn and start searching for those job titles in related companies and reaching out to people who are working in them asking if they would be willing to answer a couple questions you have about starting out. It’ll be a lot of unanswered messages, but all it takes is one person to help you get situated and understand what next moves can be.

    Lastly, if you signed up for a 7 year program there must be aspects of your old field that you enjoyed and have contacts from there. I would reach out to old colleagues/people you trust from that life and talk to them about what you’re looking for. I quite literally have been put in contact with 7 people in the field I’m looking to break in to from a single old contact I last spoke to 7 years ago but still have a connection with on LinkedIn. You’d be surprised what your network can do!

    Best of luck OP, can’t wait to see your update on Good News Friday down the road! :)

    1. Clearlier*

      Best answer so far. They key is to build a system and follow that system. My advice would be to pick a few industries that you’re interested. Used LinkedIn to find out what job titles there are in those industries. Reach out to people with those job titles and find out what the job really entails and how your skills and experience can transfer. If they don’t transfer enough ask for help to identify an interim role to help you transition.

      The key though is to have a system, follow that system and adjust it as necessary.

      Good luck with the search.

      1. Squirrel Nutkin*

        On the topic of implementing a system, an old mentor of mine told me her trick to getting new jobs wherever she moved in the 1980s. (She was married to someone who got transferred a LOT.) Once she got one contact, she’d write a brief note explaining who had referred her to that person and asking if they could meet for coffee for 20 minutes (her treat, of course) so that she could pick that person’s brain about their position/industry. She never asked for a job, just information, and she always made sure to ask if they could refer her to anyone else. After coffee, she’d send a polite thank-you note. She’d just go from contact to contact, and eventually, she’d fit what someone was looking for, and she’d wind up getting offered a job or invited to apply for one.

    2. Hats Are Great*

      One thing I found really helpful when trying to think about “what jobs even exist, actually?” after escaping academia was talking to friends and their spouses (because my friend group leaned pretty heavily towards “people also in academia” but spouses were more diverse!) and just asking, “What kinds of roles/jobs is your company hiring like crazy right now? What kinds of roles are they finding it difficult to fill?” It gave me a sense of what kinds of jobs were hiring, and also what kinds of jobs might be easier to break in to because companies couldn’t find enough people to do them.

      I was really intimidated by moving to corporate America and it felt very opaque to me, a whole foreign language and jargon I didn’t know. My friends and friends’ spouses who worked in corporate America were super willing to walk me through jargon and talk to me about how to frame my experiences on my resume to be more corporate-friendly, and to explain things I didn’t understand in job ads. Also SO many people said to me, “You know, my brother-in-law hires people for roles like these all the time; let me e-mail him, he’d be happy to hop on a Zoom and talk you through how to stand out in an interview” or “You know, I don’t really know anything about that industry, but my mom’s been working in that industry for 30 years — let me put you in touch with her.” Friends and relatives of friends happily helped me edit my resume and do interview prep — people were super-generous about it!

  10. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    A good way to explore a career is to take a few hours and do an online course on LinkedIn Learning or some other site.

    1. Formerly Frustrated Optimist*

      Great idea, and you might check with your local library to see if they have a subscription for LinkedIn Learning, so you don’t have to pay out of pocket.

  11. Tinydrone*

    Consider working for the library! Lots of structure, and depending on the position, no opportunity to take work home. Libraries tend to have a ton of people on their second career looking for exactly what you describe.

    1. four calling birds*

      I have a masters in Library and Information Science, worked in libraries for six years, and I’ve now left that field for many of the same reasons OP left academia… *shrug*

      1. Ope!*

        Technical services librarianship, as opposed to public services / instruction / etc will likely have more of what OP wants. As a full time cataloger I had a ton of structure and a very clean divide. When I was working in outreach & instruction, much much less so.

        If OP can find a technician position supporting acquisitions or ILL, they likely wouldn’t need an MLIS to break in. Unfortunately are a lot of MLISs applying to those as well due to a shortage of MLIS posts, from what I’ve heard, so it’s a mixed bag of possibility.

        1. Ope!*

          I should have included, to bring it out more generally, support / technician roles have, in my experience, been more structured and divided than the positions they are supporting. So maybe use those keywords in searches as well!

        2. Jora Malli*

          It’s next to impossible to get a back office library job right now, even with tons of experience.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        That’s what I’ve heard from others as well. Not a librarian myself but by happy accident is a social circle with quite a few librarians/library science majors. Seems like a difficult career to break into right now, with a lot of academia-adjacent problems.

      3. A Library Person*

        Yeah, the experience at R1 libraries (who do sometimes hire Ph.Ds without the library degree, but with only a masters/bachelor’s you’ll probably need the MLIS or equivalent) can often be very similar to professor-y academia. I worked someplace that had tenure for librarians, except the process entailed as much research and almost as much teaching as for traditional tenure-track professors. You can imagine how that affected the amount of actual library work those people were able to do, and how it affected everyone else who already had more than a full-time job’s worth of work to do. Even if it’s a non-TT shop, pressure to do research can be fairly high depending on the position and the workplace culture.

        On the other hand, non-degree-requiring library work (academic, public, or otherwise) might be a good fit. Do be careful with academia, as the tension between different job classifications often creates some cultural issues, but you can definitely find one of those “works ends at 5” type jobs in that environment.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      However, you need a library degree and the field is saturated. I’m a non-MLIS in a support position in an academic library and most people who work here either got their degrees years ago or worked part-time or volunteered and did something else until they found a library job. I haven’t gotten an MLIS because I’m not convinced it’s worth the work and student debt, and I even have advantages in that I don’t have a family to consider and would be willing to live is some less-cool locations.

      Also, library jobs are a lot less circumscribed than they used to be, so going after that would by no means guarantee that the reality would meet the wish list.

      1. Anne of Green Gables*

        There are libraries that would meet what LW is looking for (clear goals, leave work at work) and there are libraries that would not. I do agree with Dust Bunny that it’s a pretty saturated filed, though my experience is that is less the case in more rural areas.

        1. DataGirl*

          I don’t know if it still holds true, but back when I got my MLIS apx 15 years ago the local library would get 300+ applications every time they posted a librarian job. I live in an area with 2 ALA accredited Universities, so we are definitely oversaturated with applicants, but it’s a hard field to get into anywhere- even with a degree.

          I enjoyed my MLIS program, but I’d never recommend to anyone to pursue the degree. Even if you are one of the lucky few to get a job in a library, the pay is dreadful and not worth the student loan debt that comes with a graduate degree.

        2. MCL*

          I work in a grad program that has a library degree, and while graduates are often able to find library work (or jobs in adjacent fields), it definitely is a tight field. Income can vary widely, and the field tends to pay middle-to-low end salaries, even for those folks who do have a master’s degree. Academic libraries might be a better fit for someone with a lot of graduate school experience, but if this person doesn’t already have a Master’s degree, significant practical library experience, or expertise in a high-demand library area (eg, digital project management) it’s going to be tough sledding. Some people get lucky and fall into it, but it is a competitive market.

          Based on my experience as someone who works with rural libraries in a pretty rural state: Rural libraries usually can’t afford to hire degreed librarians, and their librarian salaries are usually fairly low to reflect that – so those can be less competitive but it’s because the salaries just can’t attract more competition. Often library director positions are the only ones that are full-time and semi-decent (often not even that) income in rural areas, and those are definitely full-time+ jobs. Not only are you managing the library, you’re attending lots of community and board meetings and building relationships, mostly after-hours. It can be hard to “get away” from the library especially if there are few staff and coverage is difficult. Any openings that happen to be in the geographic area of a library school tend to be pretty competitive.

    3. DataGirl*

      As a person with a MLIS degree- library jobs are very hard to come by, and the pay is terrible.

    4. cardigarden*

      Half my MLS cohort were career changes/second careers so it’s very welcoming for that, but it’s very difficult to get a well-paying job. Or heck, even an okay paying one. It’s pretty necessary to have a high wage earner in the household– at least it is where I live (major metro area).

    5. Bertha*

      As someone with an MLIS, and actually a pretty great career, I still talk people out of getting an MLIS. As others have mentioned, the field is oversaturated, and unless you have a specific niche you will likely struggle to get hired, or get decent pay. I know many people who are still working multiple part time jobs a decade after library school, or who never found a job. However, if you are FLEXIBLE, this is something that could work – with location, with field (corporate, academic, public, or even embedded in other positions) you’ll have more opportunities. Honestly I think an MLIS gives you lots of transferrable skills, but most people have a really narrow view of what they want to do with it!

    6. Jora Malli*

      I’m a librarian, and most of the librarians I know are trying to leave the field for the same reasons the OP gives for leaving academia. OP’s description of the job she wants is exactly what I want as well, and it’s not something I’ve ever encountered in 20 years in public libraries.

    7. Noxalas*

      Adding my voice to the chorus not to enter library science without seriously doing your research first! Not only is it very over-saturated and underpaid, there isn’t necessarily much structure either! Unless it’s a very large one, you’ll probably have to wear multiple hats and your job might more closely resemble social work.

  12. iamapatientgirl*

    In your case specifically I’d consider Technical Writing if you have any technical expertise/experience at all – especially in the factory where I work, our Tech Writers serve to take complex engineering processes and turn them into Manufacturing Instructions that are clear and easy to understand by folks who may have only a high school degree. An Engineering background isn’t entirely necessary, but the communication and teaching element would be hugely helpful.
    I’d also consider Instructional design positions – basically creating training materials and programs for adult learners in a business/corporate setting – everything from on the job trainings to legal requirements (anti harassment courses, etc)
    If you were less excited about the course creation part and more about doing the actual training, an actual Training position at a company would use the same skills likely without the need for a Grad degree.
    I know I sidestepped the general question, but I work in L&D and strong writing and teaching skills are super helpful across the board in both Development Training and Technical Training and we have hired several people leaving teaching professions in just the past year onto my team.

    1. FallingSlowly*

      I would love to know more about your field. I’ve worked a professional role in the financial services industry for years and am now looking for something different, and a field suggested by my interests and abilities was Learning & Development.

      Can I ask what types of characteristics you have seen in the people who do well in L&D? For someone who is not coming from either a teaching or an HR background, is there a typical study pathway to gain the necessary skills?

      I’m one of the technical experts in my field, but I’m so tired of doing essentially the same things, just at higher values. I like helping people learn, especially finding different ways to put it across or to help them engage, until it “clicks”.

      Definitely I agree with OP that I want to stop working at the end of the day, and I would add to that: I want a job that is less reactive and more able to be scheduled and planned for, than my current field allows.

      Many thanks for any insight you can offer!

      1. iamapatientgirl*

        Yes! I’d say in my department in particular we have several reformed school teachers/college professors – it sets you up with a great mindset towards learning and a good understanding of how people learn.
        I myself come from a performance background (lots of musical and dance performances!) and initially wanted to go into recruiting, which i didn’t love so much, but it gave me a lot of understanding about new hires and onboarding people into new positions and helped me transition into our new hire orientation team and I think those set me up as a solid training facilitator. I ended up going back to school for a masters certificate in Human Resources Development/Adult Learning which helped me add the instructional design pieces together to help develop new trainings. We also have a few people who came into our factories in hourly/associate roles, moved into supervisor positions, and have transitioned onto our team.
        I’d also say that we also have several focuses on our team as well: Coordinators who are arranging for each session and doing a lot of the admin work, Program and Project Managers who focus on improving the overall program, folks (such as myself) who primarily facilitate our classes), and actual instructional designers. And due to the size and structure of my particular company, we have several teams who focus on different training (Leadership development, vs. sales training, etc). I’d be happy to take this offline or set up a time to chat. If you’d like to message me on linked in you can find me by searching for Norelle, and I’m a People Development Partner in the Buffalo-Niagara Region.

      2. eh230*

        I just wanted to reach out and say that there are probably some L&D positions that you are already qualified for. I am an attorney and just moved to a startup from a large financial institution. The startup provides a service utilized by law firms, financial firms, and auto and real estate related companies. Our L&D team is always trying to hire people with good communication and writing skills, and they love to hire people that have experience in the fields they serve.

      3. Lyudie*

        A couple of topics I’d suggest looking into before going into L&D, and having just finished a master’s program in it, I will say that you can very easily learn what you need on your own…from what I can see, a master’s is helpful but not always required. A few things to read up on are adult learning theory (Knowles is the big one here but more recent things that reference/expand on him are more accessible and relevant to day-to-day L&D work IMHO; Gagne’s instructional events are also useful), Blooms taxonomy (for writing learning objectives and for me at least, clarifying what needs to be taught/emphasized), Kirkpatrick’s levels of evaluation. There are curriculum designing/writing resources out there…I have taken some instructional design courses on LinkedIn Learning that are helpful in this area. ATD (L&D professional org) has a number of free resources and articles on their site as well as classes. I did a three-day workshop just before I got my current job and it was very good.

  13. Amber T*

    This is where those job quizzes I think come in handy – not necessarily that it’ll tell you what you should do, but make you think about whether or not those recommendations could work for you.

    I remember taking one and it telling me I’d be a good bartender because I said I liked talking to people and I had a good memory… which made me realize I lied like heck on that quiz, because the thought of talking to people all day would drive me mad, and I wouldn’t remember the recipe to a gin and tonic.

    And talk to people – ask not just what they do, but what they like about their job, what they don’t like. And ask yourself if you’d like/dislike that stuff too – would you be ok with repetitive tasks or do you want something new/exciting regularly? Are you a loner or would you like to work on a big team? Would you like to continue writing, or teaching, or do you want something completely different?

    Take a look at the job postings for huge companies that are always hiring and see what job postings you like – if they’re high up positions that seem interesting, figure out how you could get there. Make a dummy email and sign up for all of those job sites (and if any of them are actually helpful that you want to use, then use your real email). Ask yourself a bunch of yes or no questions, and go from there.

    1. Eliza C*

      I was going to suggest the same thing! I took one of those career aptitude tests in high-school at a local university, and while I’m pretty sure I didn’t end up doing anything I was “apt” for, it did introduce me to a much wider range of career fields than I thought existed.

      Like Amber T, I would also recommend taking any work experiences you have and making a very general likes and dislikes list for each job.

      For instance, I was a hostess in college and what I liked was the flexible hours, fast pace, and organizational thinking/planning required. My dislikes were dealing with customers, standing all day, and being slow.

      Using that list really helped me determine what type of environment I wanted to be in culturally and what type of tasks/roles I would enjoy. This was especially helpful since I have a degree that is applicable to many fields and is one that most companies are in search of, so I needed to be able to narrow down a wide range of options.

      It also helps to make a list of what parts of your past jobs you think you perform the best in. Back to the hostessing example, I was pretty good at seating charts and details, but not the best at more manual tasks such as rolling silverware or setting up tables.

      1. E*

        Agreed with both of these – I think this is where job quizzes come in handy, in just putting out some suggestions and getting people to think in different directions about possibilities and what appeals or doesn’t appeal about them. There are also likely career counselling services available that may also be able to help. Alternatively if you have a general area you could go on a job board like Indeed and search for it and see what kind of postings that turns up. There may also be government resources available – in Canada we have NOC (National Occupational Classification) which is literally a list of different types of jobs)

        When deciding what career to go into I took inventory of what I liked (and disliked) and what I was good at. Then I looked at what kind of careers existed that would leverage those things, and what kind of outlook those careers had (salary, working conditions, demand).

    2. Eyes Kiwami*

      This is what worked for me! I believe Kent University has a good one, but there are many universities and career sites with job search quizzes and databases. There are lots of specialties within an individual field that may match the “how” of what you want, instead of the “what”.

      Here are some things I thought about that can really make a difference in whether you enjoy/are good at a job, but have almost nothing to do with the industry or actual responsibilities:

      -structure of your day, flow of work, how much independence and flexibility you have to determine tasks. Do you wait to receive widgets and process them, or do you have to determine for yourself what you should do from 2-3pm.

      -variety and agility. Are you focusing intensely all day on one thing, or are you switching tasks frequently with many interruptions, or somewhere inbetween?

      -urgency and importance. Are you the last stop in a chain and always on a tight deadline, or are you pushing projects forward over a long period of time? Are you constantly putting out fires or do you need to be patient as you push things through a bureaucracy?

      -collaboration. Are you working closely with others or mostly on your own? Is there teaching/training elements, public speaking, interacting with the public/strangers, lots of time on the phone building relationships, presenting in front of senior leadership?

      -specific soft skills that will come in handy: does the job require attention to detail, project management, conscientiousness to see what someone is really thinking/asking/needs, courage to push back for compliance reasons or raise important concerns, creativity in problem solving, ability to prioritize and delegate and manage people and tasks, ability to figure out how to do something without clear explicit instruction…

  14. Princess Xena*

    It sounds to me like a lot of what you’re describing as wants falls under the header of “functional workplace” rather than “specific career path”, so it doesn’t surprise me terribly that you’re having a hard time finding something.

    My suggestions:

    1. Figure out what you’re good at. Look at your education, prior jobs, even hobbies. Can you write well technically? Did your time at the retail store give you really good time management skills? Don’t dismiss ‘easy’ skills or things you’ve picked up in hobbies or minimum wage jobs – those are all valid skills of yours.

    2. Map those skills to jobs. From what you’ve described you have writing, teaching, and probably solid time management, logistics, and customer service skills. Look around using those keywords or some more you come up with and see what the possible jobs are.

    3. Now you can plan your local job hunt. I would strongly recommend the AskAManager archives for help in identifying dysfunction.

    Good luck!

    1. Bluesboy*

      I’d like to jump onto your excellent comment to reiterate the point about not dismissing ‘easy’ skills.

      I had lunch literally today with two ex-colleagues who want to convince me to join them. They described the job and then one said “Yes Bluesboy, we know that this comes naturally to you – but believe me, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone and we’re struggling at the moment without it”.

      The skill they’re talking about? Being organised. That’s it. But it’s an office full of sales people who are apparently all over the place, without structure and things are being missed. These two people have seen me work in an organised way, and now they want to pay me more money to go and do it for them.

      Those types of skills are difficult to sell, because nobody is ever going to write on their CV ‘badly organised’ or ‘don’t like people’ but once you get in, they will help you to progress, and if you can link your job search to things that you are good at – including ‘soft’ skills – you will probably enjoy your job more and be more successful in it.

      1. Princess Xena*

        Here’s another great one – problem-solving. If you are able, when presented with a problem, to go through the steps of:

        1) ID the problem
        2) research the problem
        3) identify reasonable answers to the problem
        4) try the sensible solution to the problem
        5) if not fixed, repeat as necessary
        6) know when to escalate the problem to someone else

        Then you are going to be very marketable. Massive bonus points for being able to do 2-4 rounds of that with small problems before getting flustered.

    2. Jora Malli*

      I’m in the same position as OP, and I think it’s the “map those skills to jobs” part that I’m having trouble with.

      I have incomplete knowledge of what kinds of jobs exist and what skills are required to do them adequately, so even with an accurate understanding of my own skillset, I can’t map those skills to jobs that I know zero things about.

      1. misspiggy*

        Job ads/published job descriptions should give you that information on which skills you need to do the job. If an organisation can’t share that information, they’re not usually worth bothering with IMO.

      2. Princess Xena*

        For that I’d honestly start with “what’s a good job for me” quizzes or Googling “good jobs for people who X” and insert the skill there. Or go onto Indeed or Linkedin, plug in some skills, and then see what it gives you. Take a few hours, read up on what’s out there, hit up the Friday open thread hear or ask around on Reddit or anything similar and just take a whole lot of notes on anything you see and especially anything you see that looks either interesting or like it’s something you’d feel up to doing for the next 10-15 years. Spent a day or two not worrying about narrowing down the field yet – just gather data.

  15. A Kate*

    I love this question and will be following the answers closely! This is pretty much how I feel about work, both practically speaking and as a concept. I can do almost anything with training, and of course I’d like to find the actual tasks REASONABLY engaging, but ultimately I want to pay my bills while taking away the least amount of possible time from my actual life, which, for me, has nothing to do with what I do to make money.

    I lucked out and found a good job that fits those parameters, but of course nothing stays the same. After years of promotions, managerial changes, and merges, the job is very different. Still a good situation for me, and I plan to stay, but probably not forever! So I’m looking forward to hearing others’ strategies.

    1. quill*

      Same. I’m suffering chronic burnout at this point and I just want to find a job that I can do well enough in to get anything else done in my life.

  16. Not HR*

    I always recommend that people find a few “work celebs”- aka people in the public eye or post frequently that have a job that seems like a reasonably good fit for you as well. I try to find them on LinkedIn or Twitter, and see what the content of their work is, and identify why their job seems appealing to me. Some examples for you could be marketing/copywriting, educational content creators [either professional development content or university content], or technical writers. Even if you don’t find anyone with a one-to-one job you like, it can help you articulate what you’re looking for in a role the more you see people defining it for themselves.

  17. RatherBeDancing*

    Career fairs could be a good way to be exposed to what jobs are available and talk with recruiters. You can ask them what skills they are looking for and ask for job descriptions. Think of the fair as information gathering rather than job hunting. Then when you have a better idea of the kinds of positions, you can be more targeted and start job hunting.

  18. soontoberetired*

    there are a lot of corporations where writing fits in a lot of areas. My niece worked for an engineering firm writing technical specs, and other information for them, and she was not a technical writer, but a journalist. She had previously worked for a newspaper.

    Any company with a PR department would be a possibility. Any company which produces manuals, web content, etc, would need writers.

  19. You can take her out of writing, but not the writing out of her*

    There are many ways to discover your interests. I’d sit back and think about what you want to do and where you want to end up in say, 5 years. Also take a love at what you’ve loved about your jobs and hated about them. That might help you. Then take a look at job sites and see what’s available. Not simply what you’re qualified for, just what’s out there.

    There is also a site called O*Net Online. It has a couple of surveys that shows your interests and matches them to possible careers. I’d take a look at it:

    Otherwise, just be curious and go back to basics. What do you love to do? What would you do if money was no object? Then start thinking positively and start shooting for the stars. You’re a writer? There’s a ton of jobs for good communicators and writers out there. I should know, I started out a writing adjunct too!

    1. Incessant Owlbears*

      Seconding the suggestion of O*Note Online. When I was looking to pivot into a totally new career path, it helped me narrow down characteristics of careers and jobs. I kept a list of titles that fit somewhere on that path, and set up a bunch of alerts on job boards to email me when new positions with those titles were posted. Then it was a matter of optimizing my resume and cover letter for each (Allison’s advice helped me there!). Now, 4 years later, I am earning 70% more than the job where I was so stuck. I get to solve data puzzles all day and help people with their business processes. O*Note helped me find this path and I recommend it to all my job seeking friends.

    2. Rarely do I post*

      O*NET is great! also has some career exploration tools, as does On CareerOneStop, try the Skills Matcher under the “tools” tab to get ideas for jobs that require skills similar to yours.

    3. Former Gremlin Herder*

      Not OP, but so grateful you posted this! I’m in education and looking to move to a different sector, but struggling with narrowing down what I want to do. What OP said about knowing vaguely what type of workplace I want but no the content is very applicable to me, and this looks like it could be really helpful.

  20. ZSD*

    A fair number of former academics also go to work for the federal government, like at the Congressional Research Service, Government Accountability Office, NIH, etc. And some of those agencies have offices outside of DC. Dealing with USAJobs is its own nightmare, I’m afraid, but this could be another path for you to explore.

      1. Harvey 6 3.5*

        And even in smaller agencies or business units, there may be positions that focus on writing or other interesting aspects.

    1. very anon*

      careful with LC (Library of Congress, where the Congressional Research Service is housed). It’s a large bureaucracy and some divisions are better than others, but may not meet a desire for a functional workplace.

      1. dc anon*

        As a former LOC employee I have to agree! Some people are nice and helpful, others are such nightmares that they destroy the morale of an entire unit. No way to know until your first day.

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      USAJobs is fairly easy (though…”quirky”) to search and is pretty good for getting an idea of what agencies are currently hiring for which jobs. For example, Katydid13 mentions “writer-editor” in a comment below; a quick search for “writer” (but, oddly, not “writer-editor”) in USAJobs shows six postings at the moment.

      But research each agency carefully. Some have the kind of culture you’re looking for; some very much don’t. Your odds of good work-life balance are better as a federal government employee, but it’s not guaranteed. And you need a high tolerance for bureaucracy. But overall, I highly recommend federal employment for someone who wants to leave work at work when they go home each day.

      1. S*

        The feds helpfully publish their survey results every year, including “Best Place to Work in the Federal Government” and “Best Work-Life Balance.” I’m in one of those best agencies and it is not an exaggeration–this is an extremely pleasant and functional workplace and I never take work home with me. (Working from home blurs those boundaries, but I still work only my scheduled hours.)

  21. I didn't use my degree*

    I think having at least *some* idea of the job content is necessary to narrow it down even a little bit. I’d find some aspect of your current or previous work that you enjoyed most and go down that rabbithole. I felt a bit lost after graduating with an environmental sciences degree, worked as a timber inspector for a company that did vegetation management for electric lines because that was sort of related? That led to me thinking about doing utility survey work and I ended up as a utility inspector/engineering tech for a local town. Overall didn’t like it, but I got a tiny bit of CAD experience from that job so I started looking for drafting work. Then I ended up at my current company doing electrical drafting and found I really liked it, it pays well, and it’s a good company to work for with a good work/life balance and flexibility in schedule.

    I think the way job searching is set up makes it really difficult to narrow down places based on culture alone. Even if you don’t care about the work content, just pick something and start searching, honing your resume to the particular position. All the other stuff probably has to be figured out through the interview process, unfortunately.

  22. Anna Badger*

    so I don’t know what the equivalent terms would be in other countries, but in the UK entry-ish level jobs with the kind of parameters you’ve set out often have coordinator, executive or associate in the title. if you’re not fussed about the content, those could be good keywords for searches.

  23. ThatGirl*

    This part:

    And I don’t know how to filter for what I want — a highly structured job where work will stay at work, tasks will be clearly communicated, feedback will be given regularly, and no one will ask me to do the work of five people by myself — because I don’t care what the CONTENT of that work is, and that seems like the main way most people job search.

    is as much company culture as it is the actual job, although there certainly are jobs and fields where you are expected to overwork yourself as a matter of course. But mostly you will find those environments by vetting companies carefully on GlassDoor and during interviews, etc.

    As for what you actually want to do — there are a lot of writing related jobs. Sometimes, it’s hard to figure out what those are from the outside. I kinda fell backwards into my current career path, which has been mostly writing and editing related, but has had titles like “content marketing specialist” and “digital marketing copywriter”.

    I would suggest looking at job requirements and skills that various ads list, and see if any of it rings true or sounds appealing.

  24. Katydid13*

    Consider writer-editor jobs at federal agencies that do lots of writing. These aren’t proof reading jobs, they are in many ways not unlike teaching writing. You help people craft and clarify the message. Your background seems similar to the writer editors I’ve worked with.

    1. triplehiccup*

      Yes! This is my suggestion as well. Federal work and all its boundaries have been a godsend after burning out of K-12 education.

  25. Jenna Webster*

    Searching for jobs with the word “clerk” may help. Those jobs tend to specifically be jobs that are hourly, non-exempt, and they are looking for people who can be trained to do well-defined tasks. It used to be that “assistant” would also work, but the meaning of that term has greatly expanded over time. When I searched it on Indeed, it brought up a variety of jobs of the type you might like.

  26. cmdrspacebabe*

    I had a partner who signed up for a temp agency when trying to figure out a full-time career. It meant not needing to do the legwork of finding jobs himself, plus short-term stays let him sample different types of work without committing, while meeting people and learning about various non-obvious job functions.

    1. Ellen*

      This! I temped (admittedly quite a while ago now) as an office manager and learned a lot about the professional world just from seeing what other people at the company did. I’ve known people who have made career switches more recently by working with a temp agency/placement agency/recruiter.

    2. Alexis Rosay*

      Yes, this. Plus, if you temp for an employer you really like, sometimes it will give you an ‘in’ trying to get a full-time role with them.

    3. Mr. Shark*

      Yes, I posted down below about this. It puts you in a wide variety of businesses, and the temp agency evaluates your strengths and will try and match you to a business.
      You get contacts within those businesses, can evaluate the culture and work-life balance, and then can maybe apply for something (with coordination from temp agency) if you see an opening that will work for you.

      1. justabot*

        Plus the temp agencies often make a nice commission on a temp position that goes perm, so there is often incentive for them to try to place an employee. (If that is something the employee also wants.)

    4. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

      Yes! I signed up to temp through a large local university, ended up getting placed in the university hospital, and got to sample all sorts of work in different departments. It paid well enough ($18/hr in 2010) and I was *always* offered a permanent position.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        a temp placement at a university hospital is what got me into my now-going-on-18-years career field.

    5. Meatballsforme*

      I was coming here to suggest temping! I was really lost as to where to go in terms of my career. I went to school for psychology and figured I’d end up in some sort of social services/social justice type field. By the time I graduated I realized I absolutely could not handle being immersed in that every day, for the rest of my working life, particularly given the salary/work life balance/etc of those types of jobs (I respect and admire those who have the fortitude to handle it – they are often literal heroes – but I had to be honest with myself and acknowledge that I could not). I was completely lost as to where to go instead and had no experience or internships or anything. I fell into temping – mostly data entry, admin and reception type work, but it still helped clarify things so much. It turned out all of my favorite assignments (and all of the people I felt the most comfortable with or felt like I clicked with on a professional level) were in the finance industry. Which was insane to me. If you had asked me anytime up until the point that I had this realization I would have told you finance is the absolute last industry I’d want to work in.

      I still didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but eventually I really needed health insurance, so I took the first perm role I was offered in the finance industry – a reception role. However it turned out to be a really amazing opportunity. It was a small-mid size firm and because I had a decent amount of down time up at the reception desk I was able to offer to help out on small projects here and there for various depts. That exposure helped me realize that a particular dept (one that I had never even heard of/realized was a career path) was the perfect fit for me.

      It was a bit tough to work my way out admin/support staff roles, but once I had a very clear goal in mind it was a lot easier to formulate a plan. My progress wasn’t necessarily a perfectly straight path. There was some zigging and zagging, but I’ve been doing this specific work and progressing in this dept for several years now and I’m grateful for the life and career I have. Its nowhere near the life I envisioned for myself back in college, but I’m comfortable and I find the work I do to be moderately enjoyable.

      TL:DR – I highly recommend temping! Also keeping an eye out for jobs that might not necessarily be “forever” or career path jobs, but ones that you can do for a year or two or three that will offer you exposure to various areas.

    6. I Herd the Cats*

      Another vote for temping — I’m also a “be a reasonable workplace, pay me, and let me go home” person — I found two long-term jobs through temping. The work tends to be well-defined and you can try out a lot of different workplaces/industries from the inside which might give you ideas of what you want. Many folks get hired from temping. My only caution is I don’t know how much COVID / return to work has impacted these options (many of my friends are still full remote, and my temp jobs were all in office.)

      1. justabot*

        Great point! Sometimes you get a company email address and sometimes you don’t, but the work tends to be every defined and not involve any “take home” work or emails on evenings and weekends that you are responsible for answering because it’s all typically hourly pay.

    7. Gaggle*

      This honestly what worked for me just out of college! Even if the job you get through the temp agency isn’t a “forever” job, it can introduce you to different skill sets and give you a larger local network.

    8. ThatsEnoughTalking*

      Yes…I was thinking temp work too. Especially if you ultimately think you want some type of office-y job. I temped in my mid-twenties and it did help to see a range of different office environments and get a feel for what I liked and what I didn’t.
      Running legal papers down to the courthouse? Cool and interesting! Literally standing at a copier for 8 hours straight? Not so cool or interesting!

    9. Prospect Gone Bad*

      I’m surprised at the amount of “just temp” on here, IME that was a dying fad before the GFC. Sure some temp positions exist, just “just temp” as an easy way to get work no longer exists. Many of those temp jobs are extremely low paid and selective

      1. Gan Ainm*

        That’s not universally true. We do a lot of temp – to-hire at my very desirable and well-paying company. It’s a place even folks with ten+ years of industry and role-specific experience apply and apply to, to get the permanent roles, so temp to hire is a great way in for folks who are earlier in their career. Right now with the job market our recruiters are overwhelmed so we’re slow in hiring, and we’re having to hire folks we normally wouldn’t – less experience, less prestigious degrees, etc, so temping is a low risk way for us to fill the gap, and get to know people.

        1. Prospect Gone Bad*

          That’s temp to hire, not temping. These commenters are talking about being a temp as the goal. As in, working with an agency and covering front desk or doing data entry at various companies to get a foot in the door and filling your schedule with temp jobs. Those jobs don’t really exist anymore but people still talk like they do.

          1. Meatballsforme*

            I’m not super in touch with the temp market at the moment (as in from COVID on), but between 2012-2017 was when I was temping or still receiving notices/requests from temp agencies. There was quite a bit available. From 2017-2020 I was mostly removed from those databases, but both of the companies I worked at during that time period did use temps in various capacities. Mostly for med-long term coverage for admin or reception roles (maternity leave or vacation/medical leave of more than a week or so). One hired someone for two-three months to help them clean up their legal billing process (they hired an entry level person to input invoices into a new database). There was another project where they brought in someone for two-three months to help organize certain legal type docs into a new database – that one they needed someone with some familiarity with these types of docs. At one point they were looking to expand the dept. They couldn’t get approval for a new perm role, but they did get approved budget-wise for a temp to help with some immediate project backlogs. The plan was they’d hire someone entry level for a 3-4 month contract to help with some of the more admin related projects, but that if all was going well they’d revisit the budget and try to turn the roll perm. My current company just hired a temp person to cover someone’s paternity leave, though the employee was fairly Sr so they did want someone with some experience.

            Also every temp agency I worked with covered a variety of temp arrangements – short term temping, temp-to-perm and perm placements. Usually individuals within the agency specialized in one of those three areas, but once you were in their database you could be approached about any that you were open to and I’m nearly positive they had commission sharing arrangements – even if I was brought in/mainly working with a short term temp person, they were extremely supportive and not at all territorial if their colleague had a temp-to-perm option that they thought I’d be a good fit for.

          2. Chinook*

            I disagree. There will always be a space for temping in cities as people will need to go on vacation, take medical leave or even cover positions while waiting to fill an open position. A smart company (and I have temped for those) knows it is easier to back fill positions higher up the food chain internally while hiring or someone is away and then just hire a temp for the one at the bottom of the chain (usually some type of receptionist or admin assistant role). As a matter of fact, the small company I work for now currently is training a temp to take over as comptroller while ours is on maternity leave.

            Now, in smaller communities, these positions are harder to find, but I honestly think it as much to do with businesses not realizing that this is an option because we are so used to the idea of someone having to be hired on permanently instead of finite contract of say 1 or 3 months. Or because many people think a temp = someone isn’t good enough to have permanent job.

    10. BlueStarGirl*

      I was also going to suggest temping, especially if you’re in/near a big city. You’ll probably get a few awful call center jobs, but also potentially some really interesting stuff – I ended up working in a cemetery for a year!

      I think most if not all of my friends ended up in their jobs via temping. I definitely would have had no idea my job existed (especially my own weird little niche) if I hadn’t been temping for the org and making myself so indispensable that they found a place for me that six years in has now become a career.

      1. Filosofickle*

        Taxes, yes. Insurance, maybe. I have received health benefits through temp jobs but you have to maintain a certain hours threshold to qualify so it mostly applies to longer-term placements.

      2. Lyudie*

        I’ve only done long-term contracting, but only with one agency did I get any sort of benefits at all. IIRC it was a week of paid vacation, and we were able to get insurance “at the company’s group rate” which seems to have been just a small discount on the cheapest HMO. From what I know, if any agency says they do not take care of taxes, you should use a different agency. You might as well freelance at that point and not have to give someone else a cut.

  27. drpuma*

    It sounds like you’re looking for a great manager who respects boundaries. The interview process and networking can be helpful, but unfortunately you can only find that out once you’ve worked somewhere for a little while.

    I’ve always approached my career in terms of skillsets rather than job titles, and I think this is possible to do when you’re completely self-directed. Think more about the types of work you genuinely want to spend your days doing, and start by searching those terms on Indeed or a similar site. You’ll get a huge variety of jobs back and have to do a lot of clicking at first, but some of them will match to your experience level and other interests. That should help you narrow down to specific job titles (always search multiple keywords!) and industries. It’s worked for me. Best of luck to you!!

  28. EggyParm*

    Based on what you’ve shared in your letter I would recommend investigating project management, technical writing, release management, documentation management, implementation and/or training roles.

    In a broader sense of how I learned about different careers, I actually took a well thought of strengths finder and used that to get ideas for what careers my suit me. It opened up my eyes to a whole world of sub-careers within my field which led me to a career I absolutely love today! I don’t know if you can link things here but the test I used was called Tilt365 and I found it pretty insightful.

    Good luck in your search!

    1. Anonymous BA*

      I would second this – project roles are great for structure and clearly communicated expectations, although work/life balance boundaries will vary between companies.

      It may also be worth looking into business analysis roles. This is another project role that might suit you as it involves running stakeholder workshops to figure out what different people need/want from a project(teaching will give you great transferable skills for this) and writing up your findings. However I’m biased on the merits of this type of work because it’s what I do.

  29. Fleebers*

    OP, if you have not looked at fundraising/development, do. I work for a midsized nonprofit fundraising org, and most of our major gift officers had no previous experience fundraising. Most are former academics. They do so well in this work and find it very satisfying. It is, however, not a 9-5 job, just so you know. There’s some travel, the occasional evening or weekend event. But you get a lot of flexibility in return.

    1. Erin*

      I second this! I would look anywhere in your interest area, frankly, but definitely check universities or other private education institutions. Writing is an incredibly huge asset in this field, and if you could come in as a subject-matter expert it would be hugely rewarding for you and whoever you’re raising money for. As Fleebers said, there’s sometimes evening or weekend events and some travel, but if you’re primarily in a writing or research role, it can be a much more reliably 9-5 job than if you’re a frontline fundraiser.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, I also work in development, and have also worked with lots of former academics. The more institutional side (raising money from foundations, corporations and the government) is more about writing and has fewer events than the individual side. There is also stuff like prospect research, which I think is very 9-5.

      If that appeals, I would start by looking at job postings at larger nonprofit organizations you care about and see what they have listed.

      None of this guarantees a good manager and a functional workplace, though! That’s going to be a lot of trial and error.

  30. Blue Puck*

    This was me 20 years ago. Longtime writing instructor just short of a degree. I was working in the local community college writing center and visited a campus job fair on a whim.
    The company I joined was looking for an admin who could write. I was an ok admin but it opened my eyes to all the other jobs where they needed someone who could use words well.

    Start there. You can WRITE. Every type of company uses written words.
    What kind of words excite you? Instructions? ad copy? process documents? web content ?
    Think about all the places that use words and how you could help shape those words.
    Hospital systems, Pharma, and Academia are good places to review job offerings to see what kinds of tasks are performed regularly.
    Good Luck!

    1. Merecat*

      Other industries you might consider are manufacturing, supply chain, and transportation. There are plenty of positions that need good writers and teachers/trainers.

  31. LeftAcademia*

    One way to find out about different existing jobs is to look at the career advice pages aimed at students.

    An example of such portal for STEM jobs is:
    They interview people in different positions and share a video, podcast and a short questionnaire about the job and the career path.

  32. Pivot*

    A couple of years ago I pivoted careers; one thing I did was force myself to just free-write everything I a) am good at and b) like to do that could even remotely be considered a marketable skill, whether it was related to my professional experience or not. (For example, I have done theater my whole life, so I have a lot of skills from that that are useful, but it wasn’t a professional job.)

    Then once I had a list of “things I can do,” I did what others are suggesting above and went to large employers in my area and just looked at their job listings to see what different types of positions entailed. Eventually I was able to identify general areas to filter on and start applying. And now I’m two an a half years into my new career!

  33. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    Ok … so this is my job. I do it free of charge for anyone who “walks into” my currently virtual career center. If you’re in the US, you’ve got a career center near you … google career one stop and you can find yours.

    You can start on the career onestop website and take the career assessments there. They’re quick, easy, and free. And the suggested occupations (and there will be many) will link to handy descriptions of those occupations, complete with lists of typical tasks, job titles, statistical info about openings and wages, and other handy stuff. Browse around with a notebook next to you. Write down ideas that are starting to spark interest, if not joy. Might be job titles, might be tasks, might be other stuff.

    Then run some job searches. Maybe in your area, maybe with a wider range. Read job postings and start writing down the things that are on the good end of the joy spectrum. (If you’ve found one that’s almost right but not quite, sneak back to career one stop and take the myskillsmyfuture assessment, using that job title to look for jobs using similar skills to the first one.)

    Then hang out on LinkedIn. Search for people with that job title or who used to have that job title. Look at the job postings at their companies to see what’s up there. Search for related groups. Search for related professional organizations. Follow anyone/any organization that’s interesting. Follow them on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or whatever makes sense. Ask questions. Make comments. Thank people for sharing their info. Be seen.

    And start applying. To anything you think you can do. Write a darned good resume. Don’t worry about actually getting the interview. Just keep telling your career story so that it matches up to the new job. The more you do this, the more you’ll know if the new occupation makes sense, and the more you’ll be convinced that you can do it. And the more likely it is that the employer will fall for it and maybe call you in.

    15 minutes a day. It’ll add up.

  34. Midwestern Scientist*

    For this specific person, bank teller might be a good option – good pay and benefits, clock in/ clock out on time.

    In general, you could try one of those personality tests that produce jobs you might be good at to get a more broad idea of what’s out there.

  35. Allornone*

    You could try Grant Writing. I was clueless too, and wasted over a decade in retail as a result. Various life circumstances kind of just pushed me there. It’s not too difficult to get into either. I found an online accredited Masters program for it and got my degree, but while I personally found it helpful getting in the door, that degree is kind of rare and not really necessary. There are all kinds of certifications you can get. Plus, it’s pretty easy to freelance and build some experience. There are plenty of start-up nonprofits with no designated grant writer that call for contract work. I didn’t have to do that myself, but it’s an option if you’re having trouble getting your foot in the door. It’s probably never going to be super high paying (mostly nonprofit work, after all), but in the right organization, you can be pretty comfortable. I’m employed full-time with a local affiliate of a nationally well-known non-profit and couldn’t be happier.

    1. Not Felix Unger*

      Another vote for grant writing and/or grant administration. If you’re looking to stay academia-adjacent, universities will have Sponsored Research/Grants Administration offices responsible for government research grants and for private grants where the sponsor gets the research results as a deliverable. That is in addition to the regular philanthropy work of the Corporate and Foundations Relations team in a university’s development office.

  36. Lyudie*

    As a writer and teacher, instructional design might be an avenue to investigate. I was a tech writer for 20 years then moved into instructional design, and there’s lots of overlap in skills.

    1. Anhaga*

      This is the direction my husband–a burned-out Literature PhD–has gone. It does help that we had actual instructional design/teacher training in grad school so we had some formal background to point to, but years of teaching, especially if you were designing your own courses, is a big help getting into instructional design. If that’s a direction that interests you, I recommend doing some reading on learning theories (which you might have encountered in intro to psychology classes in undergrad) and on universal design and accessibility–being able to talk about specific learning theory-driven approaches you use and about how you ensure course designs are inclusive and accessible will really help.

      Instructional design, with the right employer, gives you the kind of work-life balance you want. If you go into ID in higher ed, it’s going to be a staff position, not a faculty one, and is therefore happily *not* all-consuming.

  37. just a thought*

    If they are available to you, I went to a lot of panels where people talked about their career path and current positions. I attended one through AAUW where a woman had a job that sounded like something I would want to do, so I went up afterwards and asked her how she got into that field and what types of skills I should try to develop. It was great!
    I also went to a SWE conference recently and they had very similar panels where the speakers would offer to connect with anyone listening afterwards.

  38. Anonymous Koala*

    OP, I know you left your program, but have you tried reaching out to your program’s coordinator or some of the professors you worked with? Lots of people leave programs like this, and even though some professors will shun you for leaving, many will understand and may be able to connect you with other students who left so you can talk to them about career opportunities. Some of your professors may even have leads on jobs within your industry that don’t require a PhD. In my experience, many professors feel vested in their students and want to help in whatever way they can.

    1. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

      I trust that OP knows what is best, but a completed program outside of their field will be better than uncompleted one by miles.

    2. Well...*

      Another angle, do you have any relationships intact with people in your cohort? Very few people make it to the professor level, even people who looked like rockstars during their PhD. You might find good industry contacts with similar backgrounds from that crowd.

      1. Well...*

        PS – even if there’s not much of a relationship there, I’m always down to help people who my program didn’t do right by. A lot of people with an ounce of self-awareness and any moral compass would do the same.

  39. Mr. Shark*

    I made a career change when I was 30. I took office temp jobs, and that put me in a lot of different businesses with different focuses. Some were just really simple jobs, but it also got me networked into potential employers. I was able to see the workings of the company and evaluate the culture, even if I was sometimes in more of an entry-level job. The temp job company evaluated my strengths and tried to place me in locations which I would be useful.
    I ended up in a position that worked perfect for me, sort of a technical writer job, and it has been fantastic and put me on a career path which I would have never considered.

    1. justabot*

      Temping is a really good idea. You can be placed in different office environments in different industries and learn so much. You may also meet a lot of different people which can help with networking for a permanent position there or with their clients or other businesses in the industry. And if you don’t like it, it’s only a temporary assignment – you can leave. It’s also the perfect interview answer because you have a built-in answer for why you left any position – that it was always a temporary assignment, that gave you a ton of experience, and that you are looking for a permanent role. It’s a natural foot in the door to places you may actually want to apply. And in the meantime, you may learn more about what types of roles or departments may interest you. And if you ARE interested in an area, sometimes there are opportunities to ask if you can assist or sit in on a meeting, etc., when appropriate.

      1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        I missed this thread and wrote the same thing below. It’s like a crash course in corporate workplaces.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Yes on the crash course! By the time I was 23, across various sub / temp roles I’d worked with at least 15 different teams that taught me so much about management styles and how different workplaces function. (Not to mention which ones to avoid.) None of it was my intention — I was working this way out of desperation not some nomadic preference — but it turned out to be a great foundation.

    2. justabot*

      p.s. unrelated, I just saw your username and laughed because years ago a coworker and I used to play harmless pranks on each other and once I left a message note on his desk that Mr. Shark had called. I put the phone number for the local aquarium and then listened as he cluelessly called it and asked for Mr. Shark. So, so dumb! Like 20+ years ago. But it seemed so funny at the time!

  40. kittymommy*

    You may want to look at government. I work in local and I’m exempt so the hours are not strictly 8-5 but when I was non-exempt they were very set in stone unless you worked in an on-call position or one that had overtime already approved for the position. Also depending on what state your in and the level of open records policy they have, you may be able to get a lot of information about the position(s) ahead of time if you know how to ask for it.

  41. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

    So I went the free website path (used Career Builder) and after a few of the standard insurance sales jobs and other entry level jobs that are always recruiting, I got a hit from something interesting, and I interviewed for it. Didn’t get it but got referred to a different job within that company. Ended up opening a whole world of different government contracting jobs that I never knew existed. If you’re ok with wading through some of the bad, maybe you can end up finding someone trying to fill a more difficult position that can align your skill set to something you never would have on you own.

  42. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    I’ve said it before, my job didn’t exist when I was in college.
    I found the position and made a successful career by going through temp agencies. Right place, right time.
    There are good ones and less good ones. The lesser places will send you to companies that need a warm body, but tell you that “they are in your field,” implying you should bring a resume and expect to chat your way into a position. Better agencies will work with you and really find places that need your skill set and you go in and let your work do the talking.
    But they are opportunities to see different places and what goes on in them. And I think, with much of your career being in retail, you can start getting office/corporate experience.
    Hell, maybe you will hate it. But you will make a few bucks while you find out.

  43. no name*

    This might be a situation where connecting with a placement/temp agency could be helpful. Particularly with temping, you can try different types of roles and see what appeals to you.

  44. irene adler*

    Colleges and Universities often have a career dept that is available to students and alumni. They may have some ideas on companies to look at or industries to look into.
    (certainly don’t let them tell you how to draft a resume or cover letter; use Alison’s instruction for these. )
    They may also know the names of professional organizations pertaining to industries you find interesting. That may be a way to reach out and talk to those in the industry to find out what the jobs are like.

  45. lisette*

    Check with your local library to see what job placement resources they offer. There might be more support than you think! My local library (Kenton County, KY) staffs a full-time job placement center where they provide individualized support. They are very knowledge of what is available in the local area and will refer out to all sort of other resources. They also host a weekly “accountability group” that is for job seekers to meet, network, and receive guidance. Hopefully your library has similar resources.

    Networking groups can also be helpful, and even the ones that you have to pay to join often have free social events that anyone can attend. One of the groups I am in has membership fee, but they have monthly socials that are posted on their website that anyone can attend without being a member. This is a great way to meet people, find out what they do, and learn more about the job possibilities out there.

    LW, I was in your position 10 years ago and in many ways am still in that position. My “dream career” did not materialize, and I don’t really care about that anymore. I just want to do good work that uses my skill set. I ended up working for a dysfunctional employer (where I learned a LOT) for 9 years and then started my own business (doing what I was doing for that employer) 1 year ago. Now that I own my own business, people are always making comments about it’s great that I get to do what I love. Except, I don’t LOVE what I do – and that’s OK! I love a lot of things I do each day, and I work to make money. I am fine with that. But it really does throw a lot of people off.

    1. irene adler*

      Speaking of public libraries, they often have subscriptions to data tracking sites. Meaning: one can do a search for company names-in a certain region, in a certain industry, of a certain size, etc. FOR FREE! That can help with the question of “what all is out there business-wise?”.

      1. lisette*

        Yes, this is a great point! Data Axle is available at my library and they give classes on how to use it.

  46. Spearmint*

    This is something I’ve struggled with too. Here are some thoughts on what might help you get started:

    1. Talk to friends and family and ask them about what kinds of jobs other people in their workplaces do.

    2. Go to job listings for large employers in your area and just look at what’s available. Big organizations will have a huge variety of jobs open at any given time.

    3. Go to Indeed or LinkedIn and search for jobs using skill-based keywords for skills you have (e.g. writing) and see what pops up.

    For this particular LW, I would also recommend that they focus their search on government jobs. While government jobs vary a lot, in general they tend to have fantastic work-life balance and well-defined procedures for what to do (often to a fault, if anything). The pay isn’t great and they can be hard to break into with *no* prior experience in that area, but once you’re in they’re a good place to be.

    1. Just a Thought*

      These are great! I would also ask friends and family to drill down to exactly WHY they like/don’t like their jobs. Ask them to get really detailed and granular so you can analyze what speaks to you.

  47. office olivia*

    Oof. Your story resonates with me, and makes me wish that part-time work in college and grad school (not just tutoring/TAing) were more of a norm. I was lucky to get out with a terminal masters after a couple years. FWIW, even with the part-time work and internships I did, and being in the workforce for almost 10 years, I’m still learning what jobs are out there. I don’t think you’re alone, especially during the great resignation when so many people are trying to find better fits and new fields.

    While you say you don’t have a large network, I’d try to reconsider that belief and pull on any strings you have. Sympathetic advisors or profs (though I know this may not be many)? Your fave librarian? That killer department admin? Former cohort’s partners? Do informational interviews with them over coffee, and let them know you’re looking for a fresh start. People in your network will also be conscientious of your background and probably be well-positioned to help you brainstorm ways to transition into a career.

    Other networking options you may have access to: if your university has a career center, use it. They’re sometimes a little kooky so take what they say with a grain of salt (and lots of AAM reading to balance it out) but they probably have resources for you. Also check out alumni groups and go to local chapter meetings if they have them. Meet people, be curious about their work, and learn what you can. Also, I’d do as much digging as possible into other folks from your program or field who left pre-degree for a different job or life balance. There are so many more people who do this than your program will want you to believe, and they’ll be highly sympathetic and also know the nuances of your background. Finding out what they do now, and what they considered doing when they were in your position, will help broaden your options and your network.

  48. WomEngineer*

    First, start with your roots – your alma mater. Perhaps your school has career services or a alumni network that you can tap into.

    Second, look at LinkedIn groups and people. These may or may not be alumni affiliated with your school. Ask PhD’s in industry for informational interviews to see what their path has been and/or if they know others who you could talk to. Once you’ve identified specific industries, consider looking for professional organizations. They may have job boards and/or other folks you can talk to.

    Finally, check out podcasts that feature working professionals or career advice. For example in STEM, there are some that interview a different engineer each week.

    Good luck!

  49. Alexis Rosay*

    I have a friend with an MFA in creative writing who was stuck in retail for a long time, but he recently went into medical/pharmaceutical copyediting and is really happy with it. I know there was some up front time investment–he had to study a style guide and take a test, after which time he was placed on a list of qualified people whom companies could reach out to with contract work. After a period of low/intermittent work, he got a contract for several months of work that eventually turned into a job offer.

  50. WantonSeedStitch*

    This is such a good question, especially when I consider that my own career (prospect research), which I greatly enjoy, is something I didn’t knew existed even a few months before starting it. Heck, I didn’t even think about the fact that the field in general (nonprofit fundraising) existed, though if someone had mentioned it to me before that, I would have realized it HAD to exist. I stumbled on it by accident through a temp job.

    I feel like a lot of people start out in entry-level admin positions, and when they find a workplace where they enjoy doing admin work, they start looking for other opportunities to advance within that workplace. Maybe they’ve had to start acquiring some more specialized skills (accounting, or communications, or event planning) during the course of their work, and that might dictate what other roles they start looking at. Once they find a more specialized role that they enjoy, they might advance through that career at that workplace, or move on to do it elsewhere.

  51. A Library Person*

    I think I remember a similar Ask the Readers post that asked, essentially, what people actually do all day at their jobs. If someone is able to dig that up, those job functions might yield some useful keywords to help narrow down job ads. There’s also the recent salary spreadsheet, which will include a huge range of job titles that might also help point job-seekers in potentially interesting directions.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      The closest post to “what people actually do all day” I was able to find was “what do people do all day in 9-5 jobs, will a beard keep you from getting hired, and more” from July 11, 2017.

      I also perused the past four-ish years of Ask the Readers posts, and these could potentially be helpful to the OP (and others in similar situations):

      “can job-hopping BE my career somehow?” from September 26, 2019
      “let’s talk about mid-life career changes” from May 28, 2020
      “how do I change careers?” from November 19, 2020
      “how can I move out of working in retail?” from February 25, 2021
      “has the last year changed your thinking about what you want to do with your work hours?” from July 8, 2021

      (I’ll put links in a follow-up comment; they’ll take some time to get through moderation.)

      1. Hlao-roo*

  52. Carcarjabar*

    Start with WHO you want to work for.
    Look around at the well respected companies in your area, and check their websites for openings.
    Are there regional or national companies or non-profits that you respect? Look for remote positions available.
    Do you have a friend, colleague or former coworker who is excelling in something interesting? Talk to them.

  53. Another Ex-Writing Teacher*

    As someone who got an MA in English, but realized quickly academia was not for me, I did some temp work in an insurance call center, then used that experience plus my teaching and writing skills from grad school to get a job as a trainer and eventually a technical writer.

    One option is to look for entry level customer service positions at large, well-respected companies. Your retail experience will make you a good fit for these and it generally meets all your criteria. If you eventually want to move on from that, it’s much easier to know what positions are interesting to you once you have an insider’s view. I know a lot of people who started out in these positions because they had no idea what they wanted to do, and then got promoted to other roles and departments based on their business knowledge.

    Temping might also be a good choice because you’ll get to try out a few things at different companies and that might help you figure out where you’re most likely to find the culture you want.

    1. Lily C*

      I did a similar thing. Was planning to go into academia, but by the end of my MA program realized it wasn’t for me. I really had no idea what to do next (not a lot of obvious paths out there for someone with a masters in Medieval Studies), and somewhat randomly signed up with a temp agency that specialized in staffing for law firms. They sent me out as a receptionist a few times, I got hired on full time by a great firm, and promoted to legal assistant after about a year. Turns out that I’m a fantastic legal assistant, but I never would have considered it without the temp agency.

  54. Kassie*

    I work in State government. If you went to my state’s job website you would see over 700 open jobs and they are incredibly varied. We have chaplains and engineers and librarians and IT folk and communications and HR and doctors and teachers and researchers on and on. Even if you didn’t want to work in State government, it would give you an idea of what kind of jobs are out there and what sort of skills/experience you would need to get them.

    Also, when you drive by a big corporate office building in your area, take note of their name and go home and see what jobs they have. Where I am (Minnesota) our big employers include Target, Best Buy and United Health Care. Again, they have tons of openings of all kinds of different jobs. You can go to their websites and see what is out there and what you may qualify for.

    For any of these things, sometimes you may need to take a course or two to get a certification or license or whatever, but for a lot of them they can be done quickly and often online. My local community colleges offer lots of continuing education for certs and looking at those can also give you an idea of careers that may interest you.

  55. Sarah*

    I went to a career counselor when looking to change careers, and I’m so glad I did! She knew about a lot of career paths I didn’t even know existed and also had several evaluative tools and resources to help me get outside the box in figuring out what was important to me (the work itself, but also things like schedule, location, salary needs, etc.). One of the books she recommended was Designing Your Life, which I also found super helpful. I found my career counselor through a financial institution I was a member of, but Google has a lot of results, too. It’s not necessarily a cheap option, but a couple sessions was definitely worth it for me!

    1. Absurda*

      I also went to a career counselor when thinking of a career change and highly recommend it if you can swing it financially. You might also try reaching out to the career services department at your former university. The quality of their advice can vary widely, but they may have a handle on opportunities and careers available in the area.

      You may also try something like and look for local companies with good work/life balance reviews then see what they have available.

  56. ATX*

    What I always do is find companies that are good to work for that also have jobs where I’d be able to apply. This takes time and research, and I start with gladsdoors best company list.

    There are quite a few on that list that I just can’t apply for, because my skills don’t match and I don’t have the expertise. Dell and Cisco are great companies, but even job titles that match mine or similar to mine require a set of knowledge that I don’t have, so those jobs are always out.

    I look at the googles of the world and the top fortune 100 companies based on their Glassdoor reviews and what benefits they offer.

  57. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Sometimes, it can work to just take a gig that you can do and put a generalist résumé out there so the job you don’t know about can find you.

    I’m not going to tout that as a valid strategery on its own, but it’s a useful tactic as you pursue the jobs you know exist.

  58. A lawyer*

    OP (and anyone looking for a new career) could see if there is a vocational evaluator/examiner in their city. I use them frequently in the context of divorce cases to determine if a person is able to be employed and in what sorts of jobs and for what income range.

  59. Combinatorialist*

    I think I would start with a book that describes different fields, what the qualifications for them, what the expectations are. My parents got me when I was a teen and it was helpful in at least narrowing down some options. That would at least give you some search terms to try and dig deeper with

  60. LHOI*

    Related but not the same–I am looking to move from a nonprofit fundraising strategy/ops role in annual giving and membership into a job in the for-profit world, and I am completely at a loss. I have never worked outside of the nonprofit sector. Anyone made this transition successfully?

  61. Didi*

    I don’t know whether the OP is in the US or not, but the US federal government (as well as governments in Canada, the UK and other countries) have excellent resources to help job seekers. These are underappreciated FREE resources!

    The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has a great site:
    You can research different occupations, their typical requirements for training and education, the availability of jobs in your area, what the jobs typically pay, and the outlook for the future.

    Canada has a similar service:

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      I was going to suggest this! And specifically the “occupation finder” on the site, if someone just wants to see a long list of jobs that exist. This could be helpful even for people not in the US. The required education, growth rate, and salary info would be different country by country, but so many of the listed jobs will also exist elsewhere.

  62. Canonical23*

    Look up your city’s Business Journal and see what companies win “Best Place to Work” over the past couple of years. Keep a list and check their job boards frequently. See what kind of non-profit organizations exist – a lot of cities have a sort of “chamber of commerce” for non-profits that have a job board for participating orgs. Look at city government websites and public library websites for their job boards – depending on the area you’re in, they may also post jobs for other orgs in the area. Check if you have federal offices in your area – a lot of government orgs have regional offices throughout the US. Make a list of all the available community colleges and universities and check their job boards. Remote work is starting to be a lot more common for administrative/operational roles for higher education and you can search for those particular opportunities with Higher Ed Jobs.

    You also may want to look at recruiting companies in your area – when I was looking at a career change, I emailed a couple of recruiters. One of them was super helpful and set up several interviews with local companies. I have a social sciences background and don’t have a super long work history, so you don’t have to have some in-demand IT certification to work with a recruiter. While I didn’t end up making a career change, I did get a few offers from this.

    I know people recommend just going through Indeed and LinkedIn, but I think they’re better for when you’ve exhausted individual job boards, because you do have to pick through a lot of scams and incorrectly written job ads (like PT jobs claiming they’re FT jobs or “remote” jobs that require you to be on site 100% of the time).

  63. GlowCloud*

    The UK government has a surprisingly OK assessment tool for deciding what type of work you might be good at, and would suit your particular strengths and motivations.

    There are 10 assessment categories, each taking between 10-25 minutes to complete, and it will generate a pdf report explaining your scores *and* suggesting some jobs that heavily involve those skillsets.
    It’s definitely not a magic bullet, but it might help you prioritise the broad types of work that you are most interested in.

    Alternatively, you could browse jobs by sector at to see what the roles typically require, and how you can find a route into these careers.

  64. YankeeTexan*

    Take a look at your local community college(s) and their certificate/CE programs for ideas. A lot of these programs are geared toward getting people into new careers in short periods of time, so they offer a good cross-section of things that might need some education or training that wouldn’t immediately come to mind otherwise. I’ve also found that just searching for the parameters of a workplace/its conditions on job boards brings up a lot of stuff I’ve never heard of before. For instance, looking at full-time, entry level, fully remote positions–throw something like that into Indeed or Google jobs and you can just peruse the titles and look at anything that stands out.

  65. HMS Cupcake*

    I echo the recommendation to get a government job, whether city, state or federal. I fell into mine by chance and I don’t regret it one bit. Everything negative that has shown up on AAM and elsewhere about the bureaucracy, illogical workflows and incompetent management can certainly be true. But at least in my agency, non-managerial staff work their set hours each day, get paid OT if they choose to work it but are rarely ever asked to do so. In fact our non-managerial staff are unionized, so there are lots of job protections as well. And the benefits are great. No promises on the rest, but you can definitely get “a highly structured job where work will stay at work”.

    1. Ace in the Hole*

      I agree 100%. Government jobs tend to be highly structured with set hours, clear hiring/promotion criteria, and predictable expectations. Even non-unionized government jobs typically have more protections for employees than private sector, since there are legal and ethical restrictions in place to prevent government corruption. And aside from certain areas (like schools) it tends to have a really good work-life balance and provides a stable environment.

      Plus, government jobs are almost ALWAYS publicly advertised. Check employment listings for your local cities, county, and state governments – usually there will be a link on their website. Job postings will always include a description of duties, required and preferred qualifications, and a pay range. This is great because even if you don’t want a government job, it gives you an idea of what key words to search for non-gov jobs you might be interested in and qualified for. Government postings are accurate too…. they legally can’t say something is a required qualification unless it actually is, nor can they say something is preferred when it’s actually a requirement. This is helpful since private sector tends to ask for the moon on “requirements” and someone new to the field will have no idea which things are actually optional vs must-haves.

    2. Ruthy Sue*

      I agree, and i think looking at public agency websites where they have job titles and descriptions listed can be a good place to see what’s out there, even if the job is not currently open. I work at a public water agency and we have everything from accountants, to chemists, to backhoe operators, to engineers, to warehouse operators. Cities and Counties would have a wide variety of jobs and typically all their job descriptions and pay are posted publicly on their website (at least they are here in California).

  66. Stevie*

    Hi, I’m a former writing teacher/PhD working in the nonprofit sector—first programs, now communications. Cultures can vary widely at NPs, but I was delighted my first year by how much free time I gained just from clocking out at five every day and not bringing work home.

    I also work with a ton of other former humanities scholars in my org and in partner orgs who do programming, NP storytelling (either comms or fundraising/development), office management and hr, libraries and archives, editing, events, data analysis, museum education, project management, technical writing, UX research, curriculum, and university admin (advising, student success, etc). You’re likely a flexible communicator who can write effectively in many different contexts. That’s an asset in nearly every field.

    For networking, consider getting involved in a nonprofit as a volunteer. Maybe take online classes or certifications. Consider internships or freelancing to build your resume. Get a coffee with someone you know who didn’t end up on the tenure track and ask them about their path out. And reach out to friends and former classmates to let them know you’re looking, what you’re good at, and what you’re looking for, and ask if they’d be willing to share any leads. You might also ask yourself: whose job do I wish I had and why? When I was in grad school, I fantasized about having the department admin job because she still had connections to students, coordinated and attended the yearly study abroad program in London, and had amazing work-life balance (she also happened to be a grad of the program). She was just content, you know? That was one of the things that helped me decide to pursue an alt-ac position.

    Good luck, OP. The transition is tough but so worth it.

  67. J*

    General suggestion here: approach it like a research task. I’m a social scientist outside the academy and I do this every time I’m on the market to see what kinds of jobs exist.

    1. pick a major listing site (indeed, monster, idealist, etc.) and sign up for alerts with a ludicrously general keyword (could be your field, could be a general interest, could be a skill, could be a work culture word or phrase)
    2. You’ll get a daily digest with like 100+ listings. Don’t despair. Half of them will be of no interest and you can mentally file them under “now I know that’s a job, don’t want to do that”
    3. You’re looking for the following categories.
    a. this is too senior but sounds interesting. What do I need to do in the next 5 years to get there?
    b. this is the wrong job or level but an interesting org, what else do they have?
    c. ooh this is a thing I should apply for!

    A month of this should give you a lot of knowledge to inform a more targeted search, at the very least!

  68. Miles to Go Before I Sleep*

    This post from friend-of-Ask a Manager, Captain Awkward, is the first thing that came to my mind when reading your question. It’s a really thorough guide to using the skills you have – not a specific degree or training – to explore what you want to do and find a job in many fields. Especially when you feel like you are starting from square one.

  69. anon for this today*

    A bunch of ideas:

    * Meetups. In technical fields, meetups are low-risk ways of learning what’s going on. You could find technical writing meetups, creative writing meetups, entrepreneur meetups, content creation meetups, dog grooming meetups, whatever. You can just chat with people, find people who are interesting and then look at their job titles and resumes on LinkedIn, learn key words in the field, and do online research with those key words.

    * Make a big spreadsheet with job titles, sample job descriptions from Glassdoor etc, the requirements those descriptions have, the salaries you find through online research. Just keep track of them. I had a big spreadsheet: educational game developer, curriculum content developer (you can write curricula and questions as a freelance thing — did you know that?), software engineer, data scientist, data analyst. Looking at a bunch of job descriptions and just link-surfing through Indeed and Glassdoor helped me figure out what titles were like and what companies said they were looking for, as well as how my educational credentials fit in.

    * Once you have more of that knowledge, you can narrow down to three titles or areas TEMPORARILY and try for informational interviews with people, just to see what they like/dislike about their jobs. You could even find a forum on Reddit and potentially ask questions there (though I’d suggest reading a bunch first, and being aware the internet is full of posers ;) ) You’ll start to get a sense for what fits your personality.

    * When I was looking at transitioning from academia I asked for an informational interview with this woman who worked at a company a friend of mine worked at. I had gone to a conference on data or something that she had spoken at, and had the session agenda with me when we talked. I asked some incoherent question like “how do I get a job?” She pulled out that session agenda and basically went through and pointed at names: you liked his talk? Here is his company, look up what they have open. Ask him about positions there. You thought her talk was interesting? Look for job openings at her company. It was the simplest f*(&ing thing. But it had never occurred to me. Right: here was a conference on something I was interested in, with 20 local companies and 20 local speakers. I could look up each of those local companies. This was important for me to realize because I was looking at “data” as the job, just as you might be thinking of “writing” as the job, but companies are not organized by “data” and “writing”. Camper van manufacturing companies have data people, toilet part manufacturers have data people, the Federal Reserve banks have data people, pet food companies have data people. Am I passionate about toilet part manufacturing? or forecasting demand for cucumbers in big-box stores across America? That’s the wrong question — the question is can I find a great fit doing something useful forecasting cucumber demand using the methods I know. And the same is true for you and writing, for instance.

    1. Baroness Schraeder*

      Great insight here, thanks.

      As an aside, I hypothesise that cucumber demand is inversely proportional to chocolate teapot demand in relation to local weather conditions as the independent variable, but I’m no expert in either subject…

  70. TheRain'sSmallHands*

    You can temp to find out a lot about different jobs and companies. You can consider looking into analysis work – process analysis, business analyst, project management. If you are looking for something that is very regimented, banking might be a good option.

  71. Anon, anon*

    Since this site seems like an excellent place to start, I wonder if it would help LW if we threw aside our teapot designer and llama grooming cloaks? We could do it anonymously.
    Here’s what I’ve done:
    – public school teacher (requires teaching certificate; since LW already has a bachelor’s degree they would need to enroll probably in an MAT in teaching program)
    – college professor (LW knows about that)
    – online writing instructor (this is a gig job and doesn’t pay enough to live on)
    – freelance writer (also a gig job; I make enough to live on but it took years to get there)
    – food service
    – janitorial

  72. matcha123*

    I feel for OP because that is me now and I am drowning. I didn’t grow up around people who did “regular” jobs at a company and I have no idea what’s out there. I have no idea what I want to do. Or, I want to sleep and study and disappear into nothingness.

    For now, what I am doing is going back to areas I had some interest in before and starting with small chunks. This means brushing up on my html. Studying css. Now I’m working through some data analytics courses and when I finish those, I will move on to javascript/mysql.

    If you are like me, you may want to try to combine some of your current skills with something new. Personally, I don’t know if passion has a place in work especially if you’re searching for something asap. But that might just be me.

    1. Anhaga*

      THIS! OP, what are your side interests? Did you do anything odd as a part-time job in grad school that you might be able to expand on? Like matcha123, I had experience with HTML (for me, due to a position with a specialist literature library at my grad institution where I worked on an online literature project as well as shelving books), so I leaned into that in my spare time via resources like Because of that side work and knowledge, I’ve ended up in a completely new and very quickly growing field: web accessibility. I moved straight from teaching literature and writing to learning how to do web accessibility evaluations, and just over two years later, I’m back in higher ed on the staff side leading the web accessibility program for a major university. My experience on the faculty side of higher ed–even though I didn’t finish my PhD–gave me a boost in applying for this job.

      So TLDR; look at your side interests and activities to see if there’s something you could shift into. matcha123, look into web accessibility–the field is moving fast right now, and the main required entry knowledge is semantic HTML and a little CSS.

      1. matcha123*

        Thanks for the tip! I’ve only heard “web accessibility” in the context of throwing a link in Wc3 to make sure the content was accessible. Good to know!

        1. Anhaga*

          One major concept to know for web accessibility is WCAG–Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. It’s the main international standard for web accessibility, and is the main starting point for All The Things, including ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) markup (the supplemental markup that helps screen readers and other assistive tech read web pages correctly).

  73. DataGirl*

    Hospitals lost a lot of employees over the last couple of years, and all the ones in my area are desperately hiring. I’m pretty sure that holds true across the US. The system I work for has even started advertising they will hire without a high-school diploma for certain positions like environmental services, patient transport, food service, etc. Anyone looking to get their foot in the door of a large organization and work up should definitely check out their local hospitals’ websites.

    Specific to LW- it sounds like you could easily qualify for an admin assistant/ office manager type of job. They can sometimes be dysfunctional depending on the coworkers, but you’d have to feel that out in the interview. Most pay decently (not great, but if you are in retail now I’d guess it’s comparable if not better than what you are getting now) and you can work your way up. A lot of the high level managers started out in very low-level admin positions and worked their way up.

    1. Dragonfly7*

      This! I’m following the job board for a huge hospital system, and there are a mind-boggling number of positions that are at least in some small way related to customer service or technical support. Also, I’ve learned quite a bit from a reddit forum for a certification that a job ad mentioned. Even if I don’t get the position I just interviewed for, I plan to learn more about what qualifications I could improve on to work in one of those areas in this hospital system.

  74. awasky*

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics ( is an excellent resource. They have a catalogue of professions, and if you drill in, it has average pay and regional specific information. This is great if you’re trying to salary negotiate, but is also a comprehensive look at all the types of work that are out there, and allows you to see it by where you live.

  75. Polecat*

    Use one website. I recommend indeed. Don’t waste your time going to 10 different websites.

    It sounds like you were happy with your retail job, so why not get another retail job?

    Any job in an office environment is not going to meet your strict criteria. No job has a perfect manager that will assign tasks perfectly and give regular feedback according to management best practices. Any job in a business is going to have stresses around those issues. If you have flexibility and you think you can handle some imperfection, I recommend searching for jobs that have a writing component. That’s assuming you enjoy writing still.

    It doesn’t seem like money is an issue, you’re not saying you need to find the highest paying job you can get. Look at entry-level copywriting jobs, entry-level technical writing jobs. You have seven years of teaching experience, how about some type of job that involves training people. What about doing Grant proposals for nonprofits? Writing business cases for a university?

    Because you are flummoxed by the idea of figuring out how to find a job, What about paying a good reputable career counselor to help you? I don’t mean a recruiter, I mean somebody who can sit down with you and learn about your skills and interests and figure out how to match those with a career or how to match those with a job if you’re not looking for a career type position. And help you learn how to market yourself and present your credentials in a way that makes you an attractive candidate.

    One thing to keep in mind is that if you find a few types of positions that you could target that you think would be a good fit for what you want, you need to also focus on whether or not companies are going to find you an attractive candidate for that position. Do you have the skills they need? There may be some type of certificate program or training that you would need, so you may have to be open to that.

  76. Miss Fisher*

    I dont know if this will help you, but I was lost when I left teaching as well. It was all I knew. I tried a few staffing agencies and found out quickly what I did not want. I fell into a 3 week assignment that I loved, and they kept me on about 18 months as a temp before hiring me into the role. I have moved up several times and I love the work I do. If it hadnt been for that temp job, I would never have thought to apply in corporate banking.

  77. Feral Humanist*

    I highly recommend ImaginePhD as a free and confidential (they do not sell your data!) resource. It was designed for folks with advanced training, which you have, whether or not you finished the PhD. I agree with those above who suggested temping; you may be surprised at the types of places you get placed, depending on the temp agency. I know a couple of people who stumbled into their career that way. It can be a bit like doing an internship in that it allows you try out different things and learn more about what you need. All data is good data in this case.

    I also highly recommend making sure that you talk to people in a field before making any kind of commitment (especially if that commitment involves money or another degree). LinkedIn can be great for that –– not everyone will respond but many job hunters I’ve worked with (mostly grad students in humanities and social science fields) are surprised at how friendly and helpful folks can be. I think there is a lot of unlearning to be done after leaving the academy; academia’s rigid hierarchy tends to impact how people view themselves and affects their ability to ask others for very reasonable amounts of help in a job search. There is no harm in asking someone for a twenty-minute conversation, and you never know what will come out of it.

    I would also like to throw out Learning & Development as a possible field. I know a number of people with academic backgrounds who ended up in L&D, because they know how to design curriculum and learning outcomes (and frankly the content matters less here than you might think). If you enjoyed the curricular/planning parts of teaching, this might be an area to investigate.

    Finally, a brief anecdote: years ago, when I was doing informational interviews during my own graduate training, I asked someone what they wished they had known when they were at my stage. They said, “I wished I’d known it was going to be okay.” Almost everyone, no matter how successful, has at some point existed in the place of uncertainty that you’re currently inhabiting. Hang in there!

  78. in it for the outcome, not the income*

    National Service (aka AmeriCorps)! There are lots of benefits and drawbacks to committing to a year of service and for a lot of people, it’s financially unsustainable, but it does expose you to many possible careers. In my senior year of college, I contemplated attending law school because I didn’t know what jobs existed either, and I’ve always been attracted to justice and good deeds. Someone suggested doing a year of national service before making the jump into pursuing a legal career (and debt) that I wasn’t sure about. That’s how I began a decade of nonprofit work. AmeriCorps can also help you get into working for the government – after a VISTA term, you get a year of non-competitive eligibility.

  79. Nikki*

    What I did when I wanted to change careers is put out job alerts for literally everything in my area (now a days I would pepper in some remote job sites as well) and then click through on ones that interested me or that I knew I could do reading the description and seeing what they required. After reading a bunch of listings in a field, I would have a pretty good idea of what certificates or experience I needed to get. Then I researched what I could do to get that experience or study for those certificates.

    I wound up making a switch from lab work and QA to IT. I’m not sure if I’m happier but I am much better paid than I was in the lab with many more options.

    Good luck to the OP!

  80. Ex Academic*

    Finding communities of other people trying to leave your same field is useful. In the letter writer’s case, there are private groups on Facebook that focus on folks leaving higher ed and academia. This allows for some information sharing between people trying to solve the same problem – translating highly specialized work into a different field. Some of this will be seeing where people are getting hired, what gaps they’re having to fill to get hired, potential job types that you can start looking at, and how to best translate your experience for that new field.

  81. Prefer my pets*

    There are so many weird niche jobs that most of us don’t know exist!

    One of the ways I discovered a lot of them was just sitting on (the federal government’s hiriring website), setting the search engine to the pay grades I was interested in, selecting every agency not under Dept of Defense, and then seeing what pops up. Originally I did out of desperation trying to get out of a terrible job, but I also ran into a ton of jobs I wish I would have known existed earlier in my career!

    It can be incredibly challenging to get your initial position if you’re aiming for non-entry level and not currently a federal employee because veterans preference points knock out most normal applicants but it will still give you a great idea of options you never would think of! And of course some agencies/positions/locations don’t have nearly the problem with vets blocking better qualified candidates that the three main agencies I’ve worked for do.

  82. Hlao-roo*

    It sounds like you have a good idea of what kind of work culture you are looking for, but are very open to different fields/ career paths. I can understand being overwhelmed. Because you have so many potential options, I suggest giving the job boards a rest for now. If I were you, I would start by asking my friends and family two things:

    1) What do they do at their jobs?
    2) What other roles/functions do they interact with at their jobs?

    If anything you hear about sounds like it could potentially be a good fit for your job criteria, look up those specific job titles on the job boards and see if any of the ads look reasonable for you to apply to. Then when you’re in the interview process you can make sure that specific job at that specific company is one where you can leave work at work.

    For example, if you were to ask me “hey, Hlao-roo, can you tell me a little about your job and the qualifications you need?” I would answer: “I’m a Teapot Design Engineer, and I have a bachelor’s in engineering.”

    Well, that’s not great for you. You want a job, not four more years of school. So, who works at my company besides engineers?

    – Drafters, who create the teapot blueprints for the manufacturing floor and for customers.
    – Assemblers, who put the teapots together on the manufacturing floor.
    – Purchasers, who buy the teapot components from suppliers.
    – Product managers, who work with customers and design engineers to make sure the engineers are designing teapots that customers want to buy.

    So that’s one conversation with a friend/sibling/cousin/etc., five jobs you learned a little bit about, and maybe one or two jobs you’ll search for on a job board to see who’s hiring for those roles right now and what their listings look like.

    The benefits of the friends-and-family approach is you won’t be drowning in endless waves of automated email updates from job boards. The drawback is your social network might not be very diverse in terms of what industries/jobs they work in (and/or they could all work in “my work is my entire life” type jobs).

  83. Becky*

    I enjoyed reading the book “Gig” – interviews with people in all kinds of fields you have or haven’t heard of. My favorite was the woman who did sales for an adhesive manufacturer. She really loved it! Not really practical advice for breaking into the field but one way to broaden your thought process, I would recommend it.

    1. i forget my handle*

      I also found something like this helpful. I read Studs Terkel’s book “Working.” There are also a couple of podcasts that follow along that theme of interviewing people about their jobs – /podcasts/working is one.

  84. MA*

    When I was first out of college and there were no jobs to be had in my chosen sector, I was also at a loss. I literally googled “entry level jobs in (city)” and put in whatever city I felt like I could possibly move to. I used Indeed and Google jobs to see what was out there and applied for some hits and some misses. But I know a lot more about places I wanted to live and got some good job ideas.

    For OP, might I suggest a job as a paralegal. Most places don’t require a specific paralegal degree and will train you for the specific type of work you’ll be doing. Some of it is very procedural while other work is more creative. In my experience, you can usually leave work for work hours unless you’re up against a filing deadline. That said, it’s not the most lucrative but it’s usually fulfilling work and there’s a relatively low barrier to entry if you don’t want to go back to school.

  85. Spreadsheet Enthusiast*

    I’m in Public Health now, but it’s not something I knew about until after graduating college. Frustratingly no one in the academic or career advising offices pointed out this field despite my coursework and work experience in biology, math, ethics, and policy.

    I only became aware of careers in the field through taking a fellowship I wasn’t excited about and then going to whatever trainings were available regardless of topic. After narrowing my focus to epidemiology, I attended related events and researched career pathways. I had to go back to school for my MPH, but I had taken the time to make sure my degree would set me up with an in-demand position and the actual work would be enjoyable so the student loans were worth it (and they’ve been easier to swallow with the reassurance of PSLF).

    Five years into my real career now and I love it. Sometimes I wish I had known how to get started on this path sooner, but the unique combination of experiences prior to my current role is probably what helped me get here. Good luck to anyone who’s still on their journey!

    1. Lady Lynn Waterton of Bellashire*

      That’s very cool! I’m a biology teacher (BS biology, MAT science education) and just trying to think of what I could do when I inevitably get burnt out down the road. It’s pretty discouraging that I feel like people see teaching as such an identity that it’s hard to envision us as anything else.

      1. Spreadsheet Enthusiast*

        Off the top of my head I can think of three coworkers with teaching experience, and a slew of roles where a background in teaching would be an asset! Positions in training, technical assistance, capacity building, or monitoring & evaluation usually have some responsibilities that would encompass the skills built through teaching.

        One of my favorite takeaways from this site is that applying to jobs is all about framing your talents the right way. Find someone in the field you want once you’re ready for a change, and I’m sure they’ll help you position yourself for success!

        1. Lady Lynn Waterton of Bellashire*

          I just feel like I look at absolutely any corporate job listing (under than training, which I’m not particularly interested in) and don’t even understand the listing much less feel qualified. I would love to work in corporate sustainability just feel a little lost.

  86. Shelby*

    I made an academia to industry transition a while back, and there was a career counselor at the university who was really helpful on advising and brainstorming about the types of jobs that use the skills you develop as a grad student. Since you are a former student, as an alumni you may have access to your former school’s career planning center, for example by joining the alumni association, and maybe that would include some advice along those lines. Even if you’re not in the area, you may be able to get useful advice remotely.
    Also the career planning center may have some alumni networking resources for informational interviews and so forth. You weren’t an undergrad there, but the career center is used to “what should I do with my degree” steps that help undergrads, like alumni networking, which has some overlap for you.

  87. Sharon*

    I recommend registering with a temp agency. You can try short-term placements to get a flavor for different types of jobs, and they may also be able to find you a permanent job. That’s how I ended up in my field. Be sure you sign up with an agency that fills the general sort of job you are interested in – if you are looking for office work, don’t go to an agency that specializes in construction labor, for example.

    1. Nat*

      This is a “yes, and” to the advice about talking to existing contacts about their jobs, temping, and reaching out to people on fields you’re interested in—

      Ask for an introduction to someone in their professional network who they think you should talk to— their best connected professional contact, or the person with a job that most matches what you’re looking for.

      Folks who pride themselves on their professional networks are *always* happy to have a 30 minute conversation with someone who they can help with information or an introduction. You almost certainly have a few of those folks within a few hops of your existing contacts already, and if you can find the right one they may be immediately able to connect you with the person who has an opening that they haven’t been able to fill for a few months because they need to find someone with exactly your set of experience and expectations.

  88. DataSci*

    If you’re coming from academia, see whether there’s some sort of networking group for “Non-Academic X” or “X outside of academia” or some such. This is probably more common in STEM fields but may still be worth looking for “Non-academic historians” or whatever for people with humanities degrees. Despite the name people who aren’t actually working in the field may still be active, and you’ll be able to talk to people who have made the same career pivot that you have. (I have a PhD in astronomy, and when leaving academia the “Non-Academic Astronomers” groups were very useful for knowing what sort of jobs were available, and what sort of buzzwords would be useful to put on the resume.)

  89. Craig*

    I did this exact thing! Well, I ended up with the degree, but otherwise pretty much the same. I’ll start by saying that, unfortunately, your advisors and professors won’t be much help here. They may want to help, it’s just that academics rarely have much understanding of how the non-academic work world runs. Here’s what I did: I put out a call on social media to everyone I knew, basically saying “if you like your job and are willing to talk to me about it, I’ll buy you a beer.” I learned about a bunch of jobs that way, and ended up with a position in instructional design. Importantly, the person I talked to that led to that job wasn’t actually an instructional designer – she just worked for a company that ended up needing one. Then I went through a winding process that led to me learning to code and becoming a software developer.

    Definitely check out instructional design and technical writing. Also, I don’t know if you want to keep teaching, but private schools will often want to hire someone like you as an English teacher. Finally, if you need a way to make some money while you figure this out, and you live in an area where there are rich parents, you can likely charge a shockingly high amount for tutoring.

    Good luck! Almost nowhere that you end up will be as dysfunctional as academia!

  90. Sloth_in_a_speedboat*

    General job finding advice: Most cities have a magazine or newspaper that puts out a yearly “Best Workplaces” list. If you aren’t attached to a certain industry, but are looking for a functional, healthy workplace like LW is, I think this could be a good place to start. Research the workplaces that have made the list for the last few years and scope out any open positions to see if they could be a good fit.

    Specific for OP: Marketing could be a good fit. I have a writing background, wasn’t cut out for academia, worked retail for a long time and when I burnt out on that I started as a freelance copywriter. I was eventually hired full-time at an agency and I have a great work/life balance and never think about work outside of working hours.

  91. Unrestricted Clause*

    Consider utilizing a Career Center – many of them are free. I’ve used these when transitioning from a job or when moving to a different state (I found that job searches on the west coast are different than in the midwest). They have tremendous resources, such as aptitude tests (even if you took one when younger, it’s worth re-taking – the years changed my interests in surprising ways). They often have helpful counselors to talk you through what could work for you (and importantly, the realities of what may be needed for your dream job).

  92. Just Me*

    Some great advice I got from a mentor a few years ago was this: Sometimes, you find out what you like and dislike simply by trying things. I would add to that that you can find out a lot simply on Google–for example, just looking up “Jobs where people report most job satisfaction”–and also by talking to people you know. It doesn’t have to be serious professional networking; you could ask people you know, “What do you like and dislike about your job, and what is the industry like?” That could help you get a sense of, for example, whether you would want to work for a big corporation or a small company, whether you want to work in for-profit or non-profit, consumer brands or service industry, etc.

    I also think it’s good to approach job applications by thinking not just about pay and benefits, but also asking yourself, “What would I learn here?” Some jobs may not seem great on paper but would give you exposure to an industry you may want to know more about and expose you to interesting jobs you didn’t know existed. I work in kind of a niche, weird industry that I like but that many people don’t know about simply by working one weird job after another and by being open to learn new skills along the way. When I encounter someone who seems to have an interesting job, I secretly stalk them on Linkedin and look at their work history to see the steps they took to get there.

    Based on your letter OP, I would say that you might do well at a larger company, and the benefit of that is that there will often be many Glassdoor or Indeed reviews discussing the corporate culture and management style. When you go into your interviews, you can also mention that you’re just starting out in the field and want to learn more about the industry, the corporation/business, and opportunities for growth and career trajectories–not all but many employers like to hear that applicants are interested in doing more! It’s also not uncommon for someone to work in that kind of a job for a few years before going, “I don’t want to stay on this trajectory, maybe I want to work with one of our consultants instead, or maybe I want to do *this* job but for a different type of company.”

  93. Anon in Midwest*

    Marketing is a really interesting field, which can apply to a variety of interest areas and skillets. People can also work their way into marketing from a lot of different backgrounds, not needing a marketing degree.

    If you like numbers, data, spreadsheets, and analysis, marketing measurement jobs could be great for you. Anything from Marketing Operations, to Data Scientist roles, to Insights, to Analyst roles.

    If you like understanding how people act, and think, and why consumer behavior tends to be a certain way, then Product Marketing or Consumer Insights or Research Manager can be great roles to explore. It’s easy to start junior level at a big company in a helper/specialist role, then gain experience as you move up the ranks.

    If you like project management, like keeping timelines, coordinating multiple people, writing documentation, and being organized and communication focused, then advertising management (for media, creative, production, or a variety of other areas) could be great for you.

    And if you want to be able to clock out and really feel like work is over for the day, ensure you join a team that’s large enough to have redundant roles (at least 2 or 3 of “you” on the team). Then you’ll be able to split tasks in a way that is reasonable. :)

  94. Higher Ed Kitten Party*

    Lots of great comments here about what to do with OP’s specific skills, and about how to find what kind of jobs are out there. This comment is more about translating your experience.
    I studied visual arts in college and ended up working in higher education. It turns out while I was learning about, say, comparing “collections” to “hoards”, I was also learning about systemic poverty. When I was writing grant proposals, I was also building communication skills that make complex systems and processes accessible to an educationally diverse audience. And of course, a decade+ of retail made me great at diffusing upset students and parents. I did not study policy, or database management, or any other “hard skill” that may have been applicable to my current career.
    So, if you are at a point in your career where pivoting makes sense, take stock of the things you learned in college, or in your previous career positions, that were non-linear or non-parallel skills.
    And, if you are still in school, I have two pieces of advice — 1: Think about your college experience as filling a tool box to prepare you for a vaguely unknown future. Seek out interdisciplinary classes that will give you experience in the area you are focusing on, and *also* something new or unexpected or boring but useful. 2: Find ambidextrous professors with professional experience outside of the classroom. I learned the most from adjunct faculty who were also working jobs outside of teaching, people who were still regularly thinking about how they were going to pay rent.

  95. DC*

    As someone who has struggled with massive amounts of career indecision early on (and continues to struggle with it) – my best advice would be to commit to doing *something*. No job is going to be perfect, and you will imaginably have to make some compromises if you are not working for yourself.

    Reach out to people you know in industry and learn about what they do. Talk to them honestly about the things you enjoyed about your program (even if you felt the workload was too much) and see if they have thoughts about what other people they may know do. If you find jobs that meet 80% of what you’re looking for (and the 20% you don’t have isn’t disqualifying) – apply to them and go through the process of learning what it’d take to do them and what the day to day looks like. Look at the career paths of people on LinkedIn who have some of the titles that you’re targeting.

    I think this may be obvious, but if you are seeking white collar positions, a priority of yours should be getting into doing white collar work. There are many people who struggle to break out of roles that do not require higher education after a certain point because though you may have a degree, many employers see them as being predictive of potential rather than capacity to do the job – and ultimately, you will need to convince someone that though you are making a switch, you are up for the task.

  96. SheWhoShallNotBeNamed*

    When I was having a crisis about what career I wanted when I graduated (granted, this was as a freshman), I went to this website: , which was very informative with both statistical information and general summaries about what jobs are like and what qualifications are needed. They also have a really helpful “Similar Occupations” tab, which can send you on a rabbit hole and potentially help slowly work towards what you are more interested in.

  97. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Think I may want a new job soon. Had a remote meeting, not listening great, saw a fat squirrel tearing into the bird feeder.

    Yelled, “go away, you fata**!”

    The presenter wasn’t a small person. I had to explain it was a squirrel. Cringe.

  98. CCC*

    “I don’t care what the CONTENT of that work is”

    A lot of what I’d say has already been said by someoneelse, but I’d like to challenge that a little– a lot of manufacturing assembly roles meet those requirements, and pay really well, but I doubt that’s what the LW has in mind. There’s probably a whole host of tasks and working conditions that LW doesn’t want, and you can pull on that thread a little bit to help narrow things down.

  99. Ms.Vader*

    A local university here had a career counselling course that consisted of several hours of tests and then follow up sessions with a counsellor to go over the results. It came up with careers I’ve never heard of. They also categorized it for careers you didn’t need education for and ones you did so it covered a lot of different options. Maybe look for something like that

  100. AnonForThis*

    As a recovered academic who left prior to getting a PhD – consider looking at large teaching hospitals/universities for anything adjacent to working with an Institutional Review Board / Ethics Committee. They will value people who have academic backgrounds, especially if you did any kind of research work yourself – STEM is appreciated but not required. Try to brush up on some of the background of research ethics requirements in the US (I assume) – Belmont Report especially. It can be very bureaucratic, technical work, but for a very good cause (protecting human participants in research), and generally there is nothing in the way of ‘overtime’ except possibly in rare cases. (Unless your institution sucks and doesn’t have enough staffing.)

  101. S*

    When I needed a complete career change, I spent a lot of time just reading through job ads. I did not filter for jobs I was qualified to do–I just wanted to see what was out there, and get a general idea what it paid. I made notes of anything that made me think, “That sounds like fun! I could do that!” Once I had a good sense of the types of things I’d enjoy, I started narrowing things down to the entry-level jobs and figuring out what I needed to do to get where I wanted to be.

    1. workswitholdstuff*

      I did that within my (now) sector. I knew I wanted to work in Museums, but even after the post-grad, (which was deliberately aimed to give good, wide ranging skills applicable across the sector), I wasn’t quite sure *where* I wanted to end up, or what other skills/experience might be useful to get me in.

      So, (as recommended by our course which wasn’t Leicester, but just down the road….) I would browse the Leicester Museums Studies Jobs desk to see what was out there, and what else I might need to gain experience in to get those hobs, by looking at what interesting sounding jobs were asking for.

  102. Texan In Exile*

    I have had some success narrowing options by using (They have affiliated sites across the country.)

    I have searched on terms that apply to me – “MBA,” “Spanish fluency,” “international experience” – to see what kind of jobs require those qualifications.

    Maybe figure out how an employer would ask for what you want – independent vs part of a team, flexible schedule vs fixed hours, innovator vs compliance – and search on those terms to get job titles. I just now searched on “work life balance” and there are jobs that list that in the description. I also checked on “detail oriented,” which I would use as sort of a proxy for “highly structured” and there are a lot of jobs with that requirement.

    Good luck!

  103. SJ (they/them)*

    Something you can try is googling the largest employers in your city (often this will be colleges or universities, hospitals, government, and then some other companies after that that will depend on your location) go to the websites of the top 10 (or however many you want), bookmark their job listings page, and set aside an hour or two once a week to manually check them all for new postings.

    If you find jobs that seem up your alley, in addition to applying for them, make note of the job titles and any prominent keywords that you can use as search terms on the big job sites.

    Lastly, many fields have niche job websites that can be very useful if you live in a large enough city for them to get used. For example, HigherEdJobs. I definitely second the recommendation of some previous commenters to look at a staff higher ed job. They will often list “familiarity with the higher education system etcetc” as a desired job qualification, which you definitely have. :)

    Good luck!!!

  104. Free Meerkats*

    My early-career job experiences are decades out of date, so I have no advice there. But for the “do your work, go home, and not think about work until the next day” part, I’ve found local government does that for me. The innate bureaucracy rankles some people, so if that’s an issue for you, know about it up front. Check all the cities and counties you’d be willing to commute to and your state. But also look at quasi-governmental bodies like water and sewer districts and commissions, diking districts, air and water quality boards.

    From what I’ve seen after more than 40 years in local government, states and counties tend to pay less than cities. Benefits are typically really good, especially PTO and retirement systems. The quasi-governmental bodies run the gamut in pay and benefits, from really crappy to better than you’ll likely find anywhere else.

    I can offer no comments on the Federal system, no experience there.

    1. Free Meerkats*

      Got interrupted.

      As far as what’s out there, for most government entities, all the job specs are available online and tend to be fairly complete and comprehensive.

  105. paxfelis*

    You’re (possibly) going to laugh, but watch a lot of TED Talks. There are lots of people giving talks who have jobs that I never knew existed, and couldn’t have imagined existed. Also, you’re getting a sample of what sorts of things they’re doing with their jobs or in their jobs.

    If you don’t want to have to take your work home with you, look at jobs where that’s impossible. If you have, or are eligible for, a security clearance, you HAVE to leave work at work, for instance.

    If editing is something you want to do, please please PLEASE consider working for a textbook company, or a company that creates training materials. If I never see the phrase “diffuse an argument” again I will die a happy woman.

    Please update, so we can cheer on you and everyone else looking to do this.

  106. not that kind of Doctor*

    I’d recommend temping, if that’s still a thing. I dropped out of the only career I’d prepared for with no idea what I was going to do next; working as a temp allowed me to try out different jobs & different industries, see what I liked and what I would under no circumstances tolerate. :)

    One of those temp jobs led to an entirely new career, which I would never have considered but that I’ve been in now for over 20 years.

  107. Ama*

    This is a slightly different way to approach it, but one thing I’ve always found helpful when I know I want to move on from what I’m currently doing but don’t really know what else I want to do is to make a list of what I DON’T want to do. This can be harder when you are looking for more work culture type items, but if you give it some thought you can sometimes make a connection between how a job is described and the likelihood of it being the kind of culture you want.

    For example, years ago I was in a general admin job and completely overwhelmed by having to do literally everything from manage kitchen staff to purchasing to designing flyers for events to reception work. After some thought I realized there were two main issues with my then job I didn’t want to repeat — I no longer wanted to do any receptionist duties (i.e answering the main phone line for an office, sitting at a reception desk, etc.) and I also wanted a job with a clear, focused set of job duties in one area or maybe a couple closely related areas. So when I started looking, I eliminated any job posting that had receptionist duties included and any where it seemed clear I would just be doing whatever work they happened to have and not have responsibility for a specific area or program. As I did that I started to see a common thread in the job postings I found most interesting and that helped me pick key words out of those job postings to further refine my search.

  108. a*

    If not technical writing, maybe copywriting for any sort of e-commerce web site. Writing product descriptions, writing copy for email campaigns, etc.

  109. M2*

    So you say you like writing. I would go from there and think about roles that involve writing- think outside the box, look on LinkedIn, is there anyone from your program you could contact who could help you think of ideas or help mentor you? Any networking events at your undergrad university?

    I will be honest- I took a step back at one point in my career and had to work my butt off but I kept getting promoted and am now at a high level. My close friend did the same thing. She knew she wanted to work in higher Ed after working in the private sector and took an extra level job and worked their butt off and now has had 3 promotions in 4 years.

    Writing I would think look at non profits- grant writing at international or local domestic non profits. Reliefweb can be a good source or Google non-profits in your area. Also higher Ed can be a good place depending on the school or course and always need good writers. You could also start volunteering at places on weekends and use that as a networking opportunity or even see if you like what you are doing.

    If you love to write look at communication roles or social media roles in public and private sector. Again I think you’ll have to apply for entry level but if you work hard and it’s a good organization then you should be able to move up. Good luck!

    1. Lexi Lynn*

      If you’ve been teaching or 3xperience as an exec admin or really any other job where you got to do random interesting stuff, you might want to consider market research. You get 4 researchers together and you are going to have very different backgrounds (my last job had a programmer, an electrical engineer, and a former CPA turned researchers.

      To be good at corporate research, you need to be able to talk to clients and figure out what they really need (no, three online focus groups will not give you pricing model inputs). Then you need to project manage the research (sometimes diy, sometimes working with a firm that had experience needed), then summarize and share information with clients in a way that they understand how to use.

      Lots to learn and anything you’ve done in the past will be relevant at some point. There’s an online magazine called Quirks that has lots of info about the work.

  110. Prospect Gone Bad*

    Go on Indeed and search postings by title: Coordinator, Analyst, Manager, Administrator, Specialist

    Then overlap it with skills/programs: Tableau, SQL, MS Suite, Excel, C, R, etc.

    Then if you need to filter by industry: tech, software, medical supplies, academia, city government, construction, energy

    A lot of people keep recommending to be a writer. I see you wanted to be a professor but now want to broaden your scope, hence I propose the above.

    Only thing is you might be asking for too much when you ask for a “highly structured” job. Only “highly structured job I’ve known in corporate America were lower level Accounting jobs, but even then, they deal with discrepancies and glitches that your boss is not going to walk you through. I think you need to lower your expectations when it comes to wanting structure.

    1. Jora Malli*

      When I read that the OP wants a job with structure, I didn’t see that as them wanting hand holding. They’re coming from retail, which is a job that has very little structure. You don’t have the same start and stop times every day or even the same work days every week, you can’t really have a work routine because it depends on which customers come in and what they’re asking you for (or whether they spill their coffee and leave you to clean it up), or other things of that nature. So when the OP said they wanted a structured job, I assumed that meant they wanted a M-F 9-5 job.

  111. Decidedly Me*

    A lot of the things you’re looking for aren’t specific to a type of job, but more to the company, team, and even individual manager. You can learn more about these things during the interview process, but won’t know for sure until you actually get started somewhere.

    I’d explore jobs that sound interesting and start applying to learn more about them. To find these jobs, I’d start checking through a major job site, like Indeed, finding articles on different industries and jobs within them, talking to your friends about their jobs and what they like/dislike about them, etc. You could try a temp agency, too, though the types of jobs through those can be limited at times.

    Good luck!

  112. KGD*

    I think the technical writing suggestions would probably be your best option financially, but if you would like to keep teaching in some capacity and live in a city, you might consider tutoring or teaching ESL. Tutoring can pay better if you can connect with wealthy clients – you would probably want to start out with an agency to get a sense of the market, but you could potentially do it on your own and keeping 100% of your earnings once you are more confident. ESL doesn’t usually pay as well but can be a more dependable income (regular classes in a school-type environment vs. random hours that get cancelled because of illness/vacation/hockey practice). I’ve made my living at both and eventually transitioned to a tutoring center that is salaried rather than hourly so that I can have more steady daytime hours.

  113. cleo*

    I keep typing epic answers and having them get eaten by my browser, so I’ll keep this short.

    The things that helped me in a similar situation were informational interviews (also known as talking with people you know / your friends know who seem to like their jobs) and contract work through temp / staffing agencies. Also some career coaching through a jobs center that specialized in career changes. The most useful things were the assessments, information about how to network and use LinkedIn and talking with other job seekers and career changers.

    I can’t emphasize enough how helpful contract work was for me. I work in the digital design / digital communications space and I signed up with a ton of creative staffing agencies. It took longer than I wanted it to to get my first contract but once I had that one, it was much easier to get my next. And working in different environments, on different types of teams, and talking with my current co-workers and fellow contractors about their career paths was so incredibly helpful.

    It’s about 4 years since I got my first (2 month) contract and I just started a full-time permanent position at one of the places where I contracted. I like my team and the work life balance a lot and I love that I got to vet them with a low commitment contract ahead of time.

  114. a*

    I don’t have any specific/actionable advice. I just recommend doing something to get you through/pay the bills, while keeping an eye out for something interesting. 28 years ago, I was in a lab job that I didn’t like, but my managers kept blocking every change I had to move to a different portion of the company. I went to a conference and saw a job ad for something ENTIRELY different (I worked in pharmaceuticals; this job was in a crime lab), thought it sounded different and exciting, and applied. 27 years later, I’m still here, mostly still engaged, and considering whether the loss of “cool job status” is worth considering when I become eligible to retire in 3 years.

    So, I guess my advice is…stop looking for jobs that you think will employ your expensively attained skills, and start looking for jobs that make you think you would find the work (or perhaps the fringe benefits) interesting. Google some stuff you like – dog training, event planning, working for an airline (because they offer free flights) and see where that takes you.

  115. Winner Winner*

    I’m sorry but I read the title as “how do you learn what types of jokes are sexist” and I figured this was not going to go well. Ha!

  116. Cup of Ambition*

    I’ve always had an idea of industries and fields I wanted to work in – government, higher ed, non-profit, or museums/institutions. I would then search for jobs in those fields and specific to my area (Boston, lots of higher ed), I then would see jobs I thought were interesting and got an idea of different roles as they popped up or became available. Lots of administrative roles are usually available – which is a great way to get your proverbial foot in the door and experience to then network and jump to other roles within the same org or across orgs. Hope this helps!

    After undergrad, I ended up: university (technical role) –> nonprofit (admin role)–>university (admin, while pursuing graduate degree) –> then government ( senior professional role)

  117. theletter*

    So the broad advice is to think of capitalism as a giant wheel with many, many cogs – some of those cogs are going to be reacting to process outputs, others will be more about creating or managing processes. You want to get into the latter.

    More specific for writers:

    Voice User Interface design requires combo skills of research + flexibly writing to a particular ‘voice’ (ie, conversational vs. professional vs. comforting, etc). It’s a growing field with huge demand. You should be able to get a ‘butt in seat’ job pretty quickly and then craft your career from there.

    There’s also a lot of educational tech companies looking for content creators/managers.

    Product design and business analysis is really good if you’d like to dig into those customer service skills.

    Project management can pay out well with just one certification (CAPM, which is the most fun class I’ve ever taken) and PM’s are pretty much in charge of creating the structure, ensuring no one has to work five jobs, everyone’s weekend is protected, etc.

  118. DrSalty*

    Informational interviews with people on different positions. They can tell you about their job and their colleagues’ jobs. Congrats on getting out of academia!

  119. Sariel*

    I know it was mentioned to look for a job at a library —– but there are also resources AT the library that could help you. Many public libraries have products (often called databases, but they’re online platforms and products) like BrainFuse Job Now and Learning Express: Job and Career Accelerator. BrainFuse Job Now has live job coaching that could help you find some careers/types of jobs that would match your skills and interests. It also has “eParachute” in it — which is (as you might guess), like “What color is my parachute.”

    Maybe not what you were expecting, but your local library might have something to help you find your next path.

    1. Dragonfly7*

      I will second LearningExpress, and also Mometrix or LinkedInLearning if your library has subscriptions.

  120. Euphony*

    I originally studied to be a doctor at university, which didn’t end up working out for a variety of reasons. Having spent around 7-8 years being purely focused on medicine I literally had no clue what to do next, as well as needing to come to terms with such a dramatic change in my life.
    I ended up spending a couple of years temping, taking any available office-based job to pay the bills while I tried to figure out a new plan. I learned a lot about various roles I didn’t know existed and ended up talking my way into a permanent role at one company, then worked my way up to management.
    If you are able to do so, temping is a great way to discover new roles, try out companies and learn adaptability.

  121. Kim*

    Try your local American Job Center. Free career counseling, resume and interviewing assistance, and referrals to other resources. You may also qualify for funded training to pivot into a new career field.

  122. MilleR_ADMIN*

    I would recommend working for a CRO, Clinical Research Organization. They do the paperwork for Clinical Drug Trails. Attention to detail is a must. I also recommend listing with a few temp agencies. That’s how I got into Clinical Research. Went in as a admin and became a Clinical Trail Assistant. I went in as temp; and went permanent.

  123. my experience*

    I like to scroll on Indeed or Idealist or similar career sites. Just putting in keywords and seeing what pops up. Read the job descriptions. Dream a little about that job with 75% travel and then realize, no, I definitely don’t want that. The same way people browse zillow for houses, I see it as just a what’s out there endeavor.

  124. Emily*

    The people who are going to know the most about what a good job will be like for someone with your background are other people with your background. I got into my current field because I looked around and saw a lot of people like me doing it, and I talked to them and asked them what they had to do to get there and then I did those things.

    In this case, that could mean people who did the same grad program — look them up on linkedin and if what they’re doing seems interesting, connect and ask if you can talk to them. They can be useful in general, but they may also be able to help you connect with the companies they work for, because those are companies which have shown that they’re interested in hiring people with your same background. If there’s a career services person from your department, that could also be someone to get in touch with.

  125. Florence and the Fax Machine*

    I had a similar situation about 10 years ago. When I graduated from college, I decided to become a teacher and launched into a master’s program. In my last semester, I discovered that the teaching/being in a classroom was NOT a good fit for me. I had no previous work experience when I graduated from my master’s program — except for a handful of summer jobs that were related to teaching.

    My recommendation is that you develop a key word list, to search for jobs. I used the Department of Labor occupations website and a major job search engine (where the search engine would suggest other things to search for) to create mine. My list included my top skills (writing/editing; organization), any jobs titles that I was interested in checking out, and any fields that I thought might be a good fit. Over time, you’ll be able to refine your keywords, based on what your search results turn up.

    Second, I wanted to mention some advice about careers and finding your career path. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed by all the available jobs and you may also feel anxious about picking the wrong job or career. My advice is to keep in mind that taking a job doesn’t mean you are locked into following a particular career path. In addition, also keep in mind that if you pick a job that turns out not to be a good fit, you can always get a different job — and now you’ll have the advantage of knowing more about what you are NOT looking for in your next job.

    I also wanted to address what you said about work/life balance. My lack of work/life balance is what triggered my most recent job hunt. I decided to have ruthlessly screen for work/life balance, and I would reject any jobs that didn’t match my criteria. I did this by carefully check each job description before applying. I developed a list of keywords, and I would use the search function to check for them and read thru the description wherever they came up. (The list included: fast paced, time sensitive, multiple priorities, stress.) If I found any mention of these key words, I would reject the job and move onto the next. If the job description passed my first screen, I would carefully read through the description and check for any other red flags that indicated the work-life balance would be an issue. Again, I would reject any jobs with one or more flags. In my interviews, I tell my interviewers that I was leaving my current job because I lacked work/life balance. I would also briefly describe my ideal work/life balance, to give them an opportunity to tell me if the job was a fit. Secondly, when I had a chance to ask questions, I would ask detailed questions, to find out what the work/life balance looked like. (For example, I would ask, does this job have busy seasons and slow seasons? how are staff expected to handle it when they had too many tasks.)

    Finally, I wanted to wish you the best in your journey!

    I hope this comment was helpful. I am feeling poorly today, but I really wanted to share my thoughts with you before time got away from me.

  126. Magiggles*

    If OP is not interested in the content of the job, but mostly wants a good culture and a good manager, start looking at companies that have really good reputations for those things. Search for “top 100 best places to work” type surveys in your area. Find the companies that interest you and then regularly check their sites for new jobs. I think approaching it as finding the right company, as opposed to the right job, might be a good starting place.

  127. Megan in Seattle*

    I think there is some really good advice here, particularly to start taking a look at the job descriptions for your state, county, city, or for a large university system, or other large employer that seems like it might be a good fit. A lot of these jobs will be much more 8-5 without overtime (you may lose flexibility in your hours, so it’s a trade-off), and you could check Glassdoor or other sites to see if they have a reputation for chaos or anything else that would be excluding. I just did a quick search for jobs available in my (fairly large, urban) county, and without filtering, there are 192 jobs listed. The city has another 131, and the university has over 2000 open positions listed! There are plenty of expected titles, like administrative specialist or HR jobs, but also things like communications specialist, customer service jobs, dentists (!), deputy sheriffs, grant managers or writers, etc. Sometimes I realize that I’m not sure how someone would even have found out that there were such a job as they hold, and I suspect some took the route others have described here: gotten hired into a large system and moved around within it.

  128. Springtime*

    My suggestion is really dorky, but it did actually work for me! If you have a broad idea of what field or what skillset is applicable, look for career guide book (often “careers” is in the title).

    When I was applying to library school, I was interested in the idea generally, but really had no idea about what kinds of jobs there were in libraries. I was actually an adult before I had considered that this was a job you could get. (I was from a really small town, and there was one person who worked at the library, and there would not be a job opening until that person died. Obviously to everyone but me, that is not the case everywhere.) The career guides I found were pretty broad, but they did give me a really helpful introduction, and I was able to start a graduate program with maybe still not an idea of what I wanted to explore, but at least an idea of what there WAS to explore. And one of the books listed professional organizations in an appendix. I started looking at their websites, and one organization had a job posting that I applied to and got! That was my first job in the field.

  129. Let’sBeReal*

    I applaud LW for understanding the difference between work and life; not everyone these days seems to. To me, this also highlights the difference between a job and a career. A job is what you do to earn money; a career is how you define yourself or your professional worth. Not everyone wants or needs a career.

    It sounds like LW wants to search for jobs based on working conditions and company culture. I love that idea! I wish it was a real thing. The likelihood of anyone advertising openings based on “we are an awesome place to work and we need bodies” is really low, though. Job openings are usually more “we need someone to do this thing”. You discover the culture later.

    My advice? Do a thorough inventory of your skills. Not your work experience, but your skills from life, school, and work. What can you do? What do you like to do? What do you think you can learn to do? Use those skills as keywords in your job searches, rather than searching by job titles.

    And possibly consider a government or quasi-government job. Those are the places that take the idea of “working hours” very seriously.

  130. Smalltownproblems*

    I worked as a wastewater treatment plant for a little bit, and in some ways it was the best job I had. Didn’t think about it after 5pm, occasional overtime, minimal management, lots of walking around and looking at things. Before this I was in a creative field where I would send emails 24/7 including in the shower and be “on” all the time. I loved that job too, but it was exhausting.

    I worked in retail and now act as the buyer and manager for a small gift shop. It isn’t Macy’s, but it’s fun. I think I want to own my own bookstore now.

    I’m transitioning into a role where I do bookkeeping. I am not good at math, but I think that has actually helped me in this role because I’m used to checking my math and not trusting it right away. You get to solve fun little mysteries.

    I would have never applied to the plant job or done this bookkeeping work if we lived somewhere with more opportunities (literally on a small island in the middle of the sea that is very difficult to get to/from). I would say to anyone not to dismiss utility jobs. They pay well, good benefits, paid training.

    The subreddit r/USAJobs for US government worker hopefuls seems to be really into the supply and vendor contract positions.

    It is really interesting reading the comments here and scrolling through websites like Indeed, because there are so many jobs that I didn’t know existed or even know how one gets into.

      1. Foila*

        Oh, I’ve thought about getting into wastewater treatment, but I’ve been put off by the idea of shift work. Did you find out to be manageable?

  131. Legal Rugby*

    Fair Warning: I recently switched over to government. The thing is, the federal government has every job you can think of – and they have a job code for most of them. I recommended for a lot of my students in my last jobs that they go on and set up and account, and then scroll through the occupational specialties – anything that sounds interested or related, check the box. Do this well before you are job hunting – it will give you a feel for waht jobs are out there, and where they were. Also, over time, you will see what they call the jobs in your field, and can hunt for those on other sites.

    1. jilly bean*

      I’m about to make the government switch as well! It took me seven months from application to what will be my start date next month, and I’ve been told that timeframe is relatively short. Goes to show it’s never too early to start looking when you’re ready for a change.

  132. Jules the 3rd*

    I should have learned by asking my parents’ friends, and friends’ parents / older siblings, what their jobs were, and brainstormed with my mom instead of shutting her out of my job hunt. I had resources, I didn’t use them. Disclosure: I had a lot of privilege, I know not everyone does.

    When I got my bachelor’s, I ended up in retail (bookstore manager) for two years, and it was ok. I saved up enough to move to a town I liked. I got a job in tech support, then another one in a tech start up, then another one in a non-profit startup as their tech specialist. I then went to grad school for an MBA and discovered Supply Chain. The options there matched what I most liked: to diagnose and solve problems. From my current position in technical procurement, I can see a ton of types of jobs within my company, many of which I can pivot to with just a little training (I *really* need to get on those Python classes….).

    What I *should* have done is talked to my mom about careers she saw, and should have joined a political campaign the summer after I graduated. I spent that summer doing catering, but my mom knew the gubernatorial candidate and I’d met him through school, I could have worked in his campaign easily. Even if I hadn’t gone forward with a political campaign manager-type career, I’d have met a lot of potential employers, and a lot of people to talk to about their jobs.

    I’ve also read a lot on this site, and read a lot on facebook about my friends’ jobs, and their kids’ jobs, and just thought about the social changes in the US. Creative jobs are booming, with a lot of people doing sound design, or movie production, or illustration and animation, so I’m encouraging my son to apply to his high school’s Academy of Creative Design. One friend’s kid got a joint high school diploma / community college certification, spent a year helping build small boats, and recently switched to a job repairing them. He is 20yo, makes $40K (enough to purchase a house in his town), and gets to work outdoors and live near a beach. Welding is always in demand. Retro-fitting existing housing for energy efficiency is growing and appears to be something that will be stable for a lifetime. Elder care, including home health aides / physical therapists, is booming. There’s going to be a growing need for people to just do the basics that help older people stay in their homes, like cleaning, cooking and grocery deliveries, and that should drive up the wages in those areas.

    But the main thing I should have done was talk to people who are older than I was about what they do, and about what they’ve seen others do.

    1. Betty Bo Peep*

      I think another interesting area for creative work is what can be done remotely. I remember seeing the documentary about the Game of Thrones show and the person who was the sound designer for the dragons lived in some remote area in the desert. With more jobs having the ability to be remote now that’s also something to think about – getting to do something cool but choosing to live in any kind of location. Like the dragon lady you can be a kind of big shot but nobody necessarily knows who you are and you get to live a secluded live (if thats what appeals to you).

  133. jilly bean*

    I have found it helpful to look at places or industries that I would like to work in, and see what types of jobs they list on their own career webpages, rather than relying on aggregated sites like Indeed. You can see not only what their specific needs are, but it might introduce you to job titles and responsibilities you may not have been familiar with.

  134. i forget my handle*

    I found these websites helpful for finding job titles to explore when I was considering a career pivot. I did the interest assessments and skills assessments and each gave me a spreadsheet of job titles, with a profile of what that job is like, wages, and outlook.
    putting spaces in the URL so it doesn’t get stuck in moderation /occupations/interest_profiler /online-tools /ExploreCareers/Assessments/self-assessments.aspx

    1. i forget my handle*

      I’ll add that it was really helpful for me to get an excel spread sheet from these assessments with 20 or 50 jobs, and to get through and just mark them No, Yes, Maybe, and research from there.

  135. KimmyGibbs*

    Contact the Development Authority in your City/County or nearby City/Counties. They are a GREAT resource for job exploration and know all of the big employers in the area. They are super underutilized by job seekers but a lot of their focus is actually in workforce development.

  136. Goldenrod*

    What you describe wanting in a job is exactly what I always wanted too! I never really cared about the content.

    I think you might like office work at a university! That’s what I do and it’s great. Check out the job listings at whatever large university is nearby or somewhere you’d like to live. Once you get a job there, it’s easy to “move up” and get better positions as you grow your career. The academic environment is low-key and there’s more work/life balance than in private industry. I love working at a university.

    Good luck!!

  137. Goldenrod*

    P.S. Forgot to add – temping at the university is a great way to get a foot in the door, and also to find out what kinds of jobs/work is availablie.

  138. Bitsy*

    I know that Myers-Briggs testing can be seen as junk science, but I’ve found the book “Do What you Are”, by Tieger and Bannon, useful when advising college students on career options. It uses MBTI types not to say “You’re an ISTJ! You should be a sandal maker!” But instead to talk about what jobs involve more or less social interaction, or more or less focus on data, and so on. If it’s not taken too literally, it can be very helpful in revealing options you may not have thought of.

  139. Crying Is A Free Action*

    O*Net has been a fantastic resource for me! I’m currently working through a career shift and it’s really helpful because you can narrow things down by many different factors depending on how you want to look at work. There is also transparent salary information based on location, information on industries & roles that are growing, etc.

    I’ve also found it helpful to think about long term goals and then just… find people on LinkedIn who have those jobs. Going through real career and educational history that lead people to jobs I’m interested has been super helpful to me in figuring out where to start when it all feels so overwhelming.

  140. Cranky lady*

    There is an association for everything. Take a look at lists of associations (like in ASAE’s job center) and you’ll not only see association jobs but what types of associations there are. There are associations for traffic safety professionals, technical writers, secondary school principals, etc. This can start you thinking of all the jobs that are out there that you never considered.

  141. Usagi*

    There are already tons of comments, and I haven’t gotten to read through them all, but I wanted to add here that I might suggest a staffing company. Not a recruiter, per se, though that might work too. Of course, do some research to make sure the staffing company you go with is legit, and that they have good reviews (from people who have found jobs through them). I’ve had really good experiences with one that I’ve worked with.

    The reason I’m suggesting this is because you do one interview with them, and they can help find jobs that fit your needs, experience, etc. The person I interviewed with spent an hour with me just talking about the kinds of jobs I’d be a fit for and why, and we discussed which of those I personally would want to do and which I wouldn’t. I really appreciated that she took the time to do all that for me, and I ended up in a job that I really liked.

    To be fair, though, there will definitely be staffing companies (and their staff) that are just out to make whatever commission they get for placing people, so please approach this with some reasonable skepticism, but also please don’t rule them out. They can be fantastic!

  142. Semiresponsive*

    There are some terrific resources at Specifically, they have an entire section on exploring careers with some self-assessments. If nothing else, they’ll help align skills with career options and at least provide a jumping-off point to see what sort of jobs you might like to search for. Career counselors are also a great option if you’re looking at changing fields.

  143. Career Hop Compulsion*

    I have switched majors, jobs, and careers as many times as my OCD would allow (a lot). The most effective method I’ve found is to reverse engineer job listings. Start with Monster/Indeed/your choice, find what next step is most interesting, then google how that could connect to a broader plan.

    That’s biased to me as I would always try to architect a perfect 50 year plan that never existed. This kept me a lot more grounded. Maybe it helps you as well!

  144. Jen*

    Go to career services or join an alumni job hunt club at your undergrad (or you may still be eligible to join even if you didn’t finish the grad degree). The resources aren’t as intensive as they are for new grads, but this situation is common and advisors are trained professionals who are often happy to help a struggling alum for free. (I used to be a continuing ed advisor)

  145. Remixt*

    10 years ago I left a highly competitive zero hours contract academic job in an area of rapidly shrinking financial investment, something that so many people consider a dream job that it was saturated with talent.

    I started by making a priority list of the environment I wanted to work in. This included the best possible work/life balance, less competitive/more collegial, higher salaries, job security and high potential for advancement/promotions.

    So I first looked for workplaces with a high % of union workers, where workers rights are strong and there are great holidays. Topping the list was governmental-type workplaces.

    A growing speciality has higher salaries, is less competitive, has more opportunity for advancements, so something with technology was a good bet. Nothing so new it was risky, but new enough that it isn’t commonly used by 95% of the workforce. Also ideally something that could be done remotely, and necessarily involved training updates typically paid for by the workplace.

    I needed an area where the jobs wouldn’t all get automated before I retire. So it had to involve an element of creativity, something that always will need to be done by a human.

    My work history was academia in a niche field with disappearing jobs. I’m now an e-learning design consultant for public healthcare, which is perfect for me. Maybe my approach could help you too?

    I hope you find your perfect job.

  146. workswitholdstuff*

    This slightly sector specific, but useful, and I tell everyone who asks me how best to look at getting into museums/heritage to do this.

    I knew I wanted to work in Museums/heritage secto, but even after the post-grad, (which was deliberately aimed to give good, wide ranging skills applicable across the sector), I wasn’t quite sure *where* I wanted to end up, or what other skills/experience might be useful to get me in.

    So, (as recommended by our course which wasn’t Leicester, but just down the road….) I would browse the Leicester Museums Studies Jobs desk to see what was out there, and what else I might need to gain experience in to get those hobs, by looking at what interesting sounding jobs were asking for.

    Said job desk actually takes international job postings as well, so it might be useful more broadly – and it makes clear if Temporary, Contract, Permanent, Part-time or Volunteer roles.

    Caveat, it’s possible there’s about to be a short hiatus in new postings, as the person who’s being doing it since it started is retiring, but the Uni have said they’ll be continuing to support it. And even the old jobs post are useful for doing research on the skills…

    So specific advice for my sector, but I am sure there are similar jobs desks in existance for others, where you can gain a broad understanding of what sort of jobs are out there, and what you might need to get them…

  147. Dee Dee*

    This was me. I finished grad school with a PhD in English and a sense of the job market that was embarrassingly childish. I found Career Services at my school to be very disappointing. They weren’t equipped to help graduate students. They gave me a career aptitude test and the top result was History Professor, followed by, I think, archeologist and “desktop publisher.” The mindset I think you need to have when you are leaving a grad program is less looking for a first job and more making a career change. Think about your time in the program in terms of the skills you developed and used, and think for a long time on what you really liked doing. Then hit up LinkedIn and those kinds of places and start to search for job ads that have those kinds of skills. See if there are people in those roles who might be willing to talk to you about what their work is like and who they work with, and get a feel for if it sounds like something you’d like to do, too. (But do NOT treat these job interviews or expect them to get you an interview or a job. Treat it like a research project.) Read some general books in those fields and above all start to learn the lingo. I swear I got my first job because I was able to drop “ROI,” which they probably weren’t expecting from a grad student.

  148. Laura*

    It might sound obvious, but I recommend asking as many people as you can about what they do and what they like/dislike about it. You probably already know what close friends and family do, but there may be people further out in your social network who have a bunch of jobs that would never have occurred to you.

    I’d never thought about digital marketing as a career, but got chatting with a friend of my boyfriend one evening about his job and I thought it sounded cool. I was also recovering from teacher burnout at the time and looking for something new to do. Been doing it for almost a year and a half now and I’m completely in love with my job! So, yeah, see if you can tap your extended network for ideas and the inside scoop.

  149. Silicon Valley Girl*

    As several ppl have said, the OP’s description is more for a type of workplace than a type of job — & you can only find that type of workplace through interviewing them.

    But for for Allison’s question about finding out what types of jobs exist, I’d start with your skills & interests, things you can do that you don’t mind doing for money (note: not necessarily things you love; don’t monetize your hobbies!). If writing is a skill you can & would do for money, search on LinkedIn or similar for every possible type of job that uses writing. There are tons more than you might have thought of. For example, “writing” doesn’t have to mean “teaching” or even “ad copywriting” — it could be user-interface writing, which is a very lucrative field that didn’t really exist 20 years ago.

  150. BlueBelle*

    I was going to suggest Learning & Development until I got to “a highly structured job where work will stay at work, tasks will be clearly communicated, feedback will be given regularly, and no one will ask me to do the work of five people by myself —”
    I am not sure that exists in any type of work that isn’t repetitive and task-focused.

    1. Friyay*

      Came here to say just this. As someone who would absolutely LOVE just answering phones or being a Walmart greeter but realized that is never going to pay what I think is an appropriate salary, the “a highly structured job where work will stay at work” would be something I’d really dig into and figure out what you really want from this. Is it a job where you don’t have to take work actually home and do it on nights and weekends? Lots of areas and careers can do that! But a job where nothing carries over from day to do and you’re just handed tasks to do and there’s nothing hiu have to remember for the next day/month/year? I’m having trouble (and I spent many hours with a career advisor on this question) thinking of things that aren’t blue collar, trades, lab technician, receptionist or admin assistant, booking appts and answering phones, retail, customer service, etc. Which is fine! But as I dug into my values (and this is where googling for “work values assessment” or similar can find jobs that match values, vs content) I found that getting paid something commensurate with my graduate education was more important to me for my life than being a greeter or something that required manual labor/dexterity – anything more “white collar” that pays well seems to require more levels of independence, ambiguity, longer term thinking and planning, etc.

  151. Amanda*

    I left grad school in a similar circumstance — several years “experience” and a lot of skills that would be useful in a job, but no idea what industry or title to pursue. I found FlexJobs was organized really well by broad interest category and I got some new ideas by perusing their site. I ended up taking a position with a job title I had never heard of before, so never would have known how to search on it — 5 years later, same company but a new role and I’ve been able to launch a career from it.

  152. JoAnna*

    OP, since you have extensive experience in academia, why not try to find a more clerical support role at a university? Your university experience will probably be an asset, along with your retail experience.

    1. JoAnna*

      I would also recommend looking at – again, with your experience with academia as well as customer service, I bet you could find something that fits your abilities, and a lot of government jobs are less demanding than the private sector (although working for the government comes with its own set of foibles).

  153. Echo*

    Talk to people about work, even just a little bit! I found out about my (very quirky, can’t really explain it in an elevator pitch, but we’ll say “consulting” for convenience’s sake) job through someone I met at a fandom meetup.

  154. AnotherLibrarian*

    So, I did strongly consider leaving my field a few years ago, though I ended up not doing so. The way I approached it was that I made a huge list of all the things I knew I was good at- presenting to groups, working with people, writing, research, ect. And then I started looking for jobs that had those skills listed.

    State Job Boards (every state has one for Government positions) were super useful, because they had everything from jobs for biologists to admin positions. With that, I could ID some job titles that seemed to fit my skills. Once had a list of job titles, it was a lot easier to look for jobs. Most fields have a job board (often run by a professional organization) and once you can ID those, you’re on a good track to find jobs. It’s not easy though!

  155. Sparkles McFadden*

    Thank you for asking this question LW. I am looking forward to reading through the responses and I think I will find advice I can use as well.

    After I was job eliminated from my long time workplace, I was feeling quite the same way. As you are. I didn’t know what I wanted or where to start. I decided to take a bunch of civil service tests for clerical positions, figuring I could land a position where I could work my hours and leave the work day behind when I walked out at the end of each day.

    The first such job was in a terrible workplace, but the second job was quite pleasant. I had a great work-life balance because I really did not think about work after leaving for the day, and this job happened to be located a mile from my home. After years of a 60 – 90 minute commute (each way) I had many more non-work hours. That was great.

    These were largely transactional jobs so it was similar to working retail, but with better benefits and job protections.

    Some caveats:

    – Civil service is test-based and some tests are offered very infrequently I once filled out a “notify me when this test is offered” form and received a notice three years later.

    – There are many listings for many types of jobs, so you will spend a fair amount of time looking through lists of job descriptions and that can be overwhelming too as there are pre-qualifications for certain tests.

    – Openings are scarce for some jobs. I received a notice for an entry level clerical job opening pretty quickly after testing. I took another test for a job where I had special relevant experience and was #1 on the hiring list. I was contacted for an opening five years after I took the test.

    In my case, I found that civil service wasn’t a good fit for me but it’s definitely worth exploring.

    1. OyHiOh*

      Funny story about Civil Service Exams

      Lo these many years ago, a dear friend took “the” civil service exam (tells you how many decades ago this was) as a bright young senior high school student. He had bigger and better plans for his life, but to appease his mother, he took the exam.

      ELEVEN YEARS LATER, he got the letter informing him that a position had come up. In the intervening period of time, he’d gone to a very fancy college on scholarship, tried to start a small business, clerked on Wall St, and was, on the day he received the letter, sitting in HIS office as a senior executive in a trading firm (for reasons that are far too identifying to post here, he’d ascended the ladder with unusual, but well earned, speed). He laughed enough that his executive assistant, as we’d call her now, came in to see what was the matter. He showed her the letter, laughed some more, crumpled the thing into the waste basket, and left the office for a meeting. The following Monday, he walked in to see that his EA had rescued the letter and had it framed for his bragging wall. He still has it

  156. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

    It’s probably considered hopelessly dated now but honestly when I was looking for a way to transition out of academia I went through the “What Colour is Your Parachute” book. Not necessarily in exhaustive detail but it was useful as a way to structure my thoughts.

    I ended up in the same field that I studied but on the professional services side rather than research, in part because by the time I finished my PhD the only work experience I had was in that field. I’d start by looking at adjacent fields and specialties to whatever you studied.

  157. Susanna*

    Instead of thinking about the kind of work you want to do, and then looking at companies hiring for that kind of job (which is what most of us do…) maybe look at companies/organizations where you want to work, where you like the mission and the culture, and see what kinds of jobs they have? So let’s say you’re a photographer (with other skills) and don’t have the experience to get a job at National Geographic, so you take a job as a news photog for a small newspaper where it’s nonstop work. But you could maybe get a job at NG doing something else – promotion, office work, whatever – and while you wouldn’t be traveling to New Guinea for a cover story, you’d be around people who value what you value.
    And your skills can be used in different ways, at places with different demands and schedules. I know someone who recruits for Homeland Security, was at a jobs fair. A woman was talking to him and said – oh, you don’t want me, though – I’m a nurse. He said, we hire nurses (and accountants and lawyers and such…). It’s just that the nurses he’d hire wouldn’t be working crazy shifts in ER. So don’t *necessarily* ignore the teaching and writing skills and training you have – you can use them in a job that doesn’t ruin the rest of your life.

  158. DentalPlanLisaNeedsBraces*

    Ask yourself – what do I like to do (either in regular life or in previous jobs), and is there a way to incorporate it into my work? Does a job like this exist?

    This doesn’t necessarily mean monetizing your hobby, but it can mean you seek out organizations or careers that include some of the things you previously enjoyed. This was how I learned film preservation/media archiving was a thing, and to be honest, I burn with passion for that work.

    1. Anonymouse*

      I think another piece of this, in terms of evaluating your hobbies/enjoyments is weighing how you feel about doing that as a job. Sometimes doing the thing you love is great to also do as your work but other times it can take the fun out of it so having a job that just pays the bills and gives you the time to do your hobbies is what will make you happier.

  159. Blarg*

    I work in public health and just recently was having this convo with a soon to be grad. A theme consistent with many of the comments here is that even when you have a ‘niche,’ your ‘niche’ exists everywhere — like basically all fields require skilled writers of some sort. And to me, there’s no field that doesn’t somehow involve public health.

    So public health jobs that aren’t in federal, state, or local health departments can include:
    – other government agencies — public transit and highway safety and the EPA and OSHA and the USDA are really public health agencies
    – education and child welfare/protection need program coordinators, case managers, etc. who are familiar with a systems-level approach and risk reduction (though not all of them know it…)
    – health care orgs/hospitals, clinics, community based health centers don’t just hire nurses and doctors
    – any position involving program evaluation, which is really emphasized in MPH programs
    – jobs wanting stats and SPSS experience – biostats and epi classes are often more in depth than the stats classes in other departments (math and CS being obvious exceptions)
    – roles where you are working with community stakeholders, which is generally a cornerstone of public health education
    – if things get real desperate, insurers and pharma, especially if you can ‘speak’ the language of clinicians

    1. Amethyst*

      I wouldn’t relegate insurers and pharma companies to just desperation status. I have a PhD in public health myself and I work in a seemingly unrelated field (tech, and not bio/health tech). Industry needs more people who see systems, who understand the sociology of people, who have a bent towards the social good and the health of all. If only people who are uninterested or uneducated about these issues go into for-profit companies, the same problems we currently have will continue to be replicated.

  160. Fernie*

    I had the good fortune to have access to a variety of tools and questionnaires while I was doing my MBA which were very useful in defining my “career anchors” and next steps, but I can also highly recommend the latest edition of What Color is Your Parachute which includes some related tools.

    And specifically for the LW, the only person I’ve ever talked to who had well-defined job with work they could leave at work was an EMT in an ambulance I was riding in as a patient after a minor car accident. He had been a CPA previously, but said he really loved emergency work because, unlike tax season in his former job, when he went home there was nothing hanging over his head, he knew his work was done.

  161. Michelle Smith*

    I have found out about jobs by checking out the resources on OwlGuru and by scrolling through hundreds of postings on LinkedIn. Also I hired a career coach.

  162. Save Bandit*

    In the past year, I have found myself at a similar crossroads. I have spent the last 8 years of my career planning to stay rooted in this field, and in the past two years I even was giving serious consideration to going back for my Master’s to try to advance in this niche. Many things, including covid, made me completely reconsider – VERY stressful! Like suddenly my anchor was cut and I was floating in the open sea with no idea what to do.

    So what I did was really deliberately spell out (for me, actually writing things down) what I wanted out of my career in the future. For me, work-life balance is paramount. I want to be fulfilled in my work, but I don’t want my career to take up my whole life. I also want to be in control, calling most of the shots as far as when and where I work. Then I listed my skillset and started considering what things I really loved to do and how that intersected with what I’m really good at. After several months of just sitting with things, I eventually decided to start a side hustle, with the goal of turning it into a full-time income. Thankfully I am in a secure position with my current job, and am able to build up my business in my off-time – establishing clients, and finding my niche with the services I provide. My goal is to resign my job by December 2023 (hopefully sooner). Just taking this at a really granular level – what do I like doing and how does that play into what I want my future to look like – helped so much. Good luck!!

  163. Dee*

    Hi – to the question of “how”, have you considered researching on Youtube? If you’re naturally curious, I’ve found that is a great way to learn lots of info that I would never encounter otherwise (which includes careers and how people make a living, but also unexpected stuff !)

  164. Beth*

    OP, I’m in the middle of making this exact move (leaving a PhD program to find a career outside academia). This problem–where do I look, what do I even want, how do I look for a job when I care more about workplace culture/day to day life than about field or industry–really resonates with me. As I’ve been approaching it, there are a few things that I’ve found useful. I hope they help you too!

    1) I spent a bunch of time talking to friends in other fields about their work. I set up phone calls with anyone who was up for taking a few minutes with me. I asked about what their day to day life is like in their job (since that’s what I cared about) and on what kinds of skills they needed to do well (since that’s what I would need to have if I ended up wanting a job like theirs). This was really informative and helpful for me to learn about what’s out there.

    2) I thought about what tasks I really enjoyed doing, both in my academia work and in the work I’d done before that. We wear so many hats in academia that we all have diverse skill sets–research, analysis, teaching, copywriting, project planning and management, grant writing, editing, translation, admin, workshop/conference/event planning, and a million more. I like some of those more than others. Might as well play to my strengths, right?

    3) I talked to a career coach who did a really fantastic job of helping me take the things I learned from 1 and 2 and translate them into actual fields and job titles I can look for. I really struggled to do this step on my own–I had no idea how to go from “I have and enjoy using X skill” to finding compelling job postings. I don’t think most people are good at that, actually–they just don’t need to, because most people aren’t trying to enter a new field from scratch when they already have significant professional skills. But most people I talked to about my options couldn’t give me suggestions beyond ‘writer’, ‘teacher’, or ‘higher ed admin’. It takes a special person to make connections beyond the obvious, and it was so, so worth it to find someone who could help me with that.

    1. Beth*

      My last piece of advice: You know more than you think, you have more skills than you think, your experience counts for more than you think. Being a PhD student specifically makes it hard to see these things. We spend 6-8 years working while being told we’re not even advanced enough to be early career scholars yet! It’s really hard, in that environment, to think of yourself as a highly competent and skilled professional.

      You’re going to see job posts that make you go, “That sounds interesting but I’m not sure I’m qualified for it.” If the qualification gap is a really obvious one (e.g. they need someone who can code and you can’t code), then that’s a fair reaction. But if it’s a softer skill like analytical thinking, problem solving, communication? Or if it’s something like “2 years experience as a corporate trainer,” where you might not have been a corporate trainer exactly but you’ve definitely been teaching for that long? Assume you can do it and submit the application. What’s the worst they can do, reject you?

  165. CommentingToday*

    Your local career center – explain you want help with career counseling.
    Your local recruitment firms – to add your resume to their applicant pool. (And if you dont know of local recruiters, ask your local Chamber of Commerce.)

  166. DrRat*

    I did a complete career change several years ago, and have a bit of a different slant than some others. Some things that helped me:
    1. Literally do a Google search of “companies with good work-life balance” – no, it won’t be 100% accurate but it can give you a start. Also search for companies with great PTO.
    2. Strongly consider hourly jobs rather than salaried. Yes, there are salaried jobs in the universe that don’t ask for 45+ hour work weeks, but outside of government, they are more the exception than the rule.
    3. Think of “unsexy” fields – the kind of boring stuff where if someone asks what you do for a living, you answer, and they say “Huh” and change the subject. For instance, unless you own your own agency, most people working in insurance work 40 hour work weeks. Companies in “unsexy” fields often have structured programs to train and even license good people as it’s so hard to find people already trained/licensed.
    4. In my experience, the larger the company, the more structured. You want to look for “little fish in a big pond” jobs. I would not take any job where you are the only one in a particular job – the more indispensable you are, the harder it is to keep work-life balance. I want a job where the world doesn’t end if I call in sick.
    5. If you know artists, writers, and other creative folks, check with them on their day jobs. My company has a huge number of creative people who work 40 hours here to have a salary and benefits and flex schedule when their real passion is their artistic pursuits.
    6. This is really ridiculous, but I fell into my job/company by driving by a building and thinking, “Oh, nice building, big parking lot, good location, it would be a reverse commute for me against traffic – I wonder what they do there?” You can literally drive around your area and take a look!

  167. sara*

    One generic recommendation is to talk to friends/acquaintances not just about their jobs but about the kinds of coworkers they have who do other job roles. Might lead you down some interesting paths of career exploration. Like maybe you learn that at your friend’s job, they have a lot of data scientists or some sort of niche accounting role that you’ve never heard of. For example, I work at a tech company, but we are in the agriculture industry. So I work with agronomists, entomologists, hardware engineers, manufacturing & logistics professionals, chemists, etc. My job is a pretty standard web developer role, but I interact with a whole bunch of different job roles.

    For example, I have a friend who’s looking to change careers. She has lots of experience in permitting and regulatory processes alongside her very niche career path. And I have colleagues who deal with a lot of regulatory processes, so have been able to send her some job postings that are a way closer match to her skills and experience than she would have thought about just from doing a standard job search. I think she likely won’t end up at my specific company, but she’s now got some more examples of transferable skills/experience and what sorts of careers that might entail.

    1. Overeducated*

      Just commenting to say I love this advice, I’ve never heard it before, but it’s a bit different and more specific than “ask for connections/network.” Honestly, I’m mid-career and not sure where to go next, and I might try this.

  168. CanRelate*

    After a my first few retail jobs, I had a list of specific conditions for my work that I really wanted. I lucked into my first job and then stayed in it for years because it met those conditions:
    – I wanted to work from home
    – I wanted some schedule flexibility
    – I wanted some upwards mobility and career growth
    – I needed the pay to keep up with my student loans and allow me to save

    It ended up being that last point that pushed me to be picky about jobs, because I had a degree from a private art school and my loans are as expensive as my degree is relatively useless. This process of elimination gave me a smaller pool to work from and helped me focus.

    I ended up falling into customer support, but very technical support. If you’re good at reading, writing, helping people, and computers, there’s a lot of software companies that are small enough to not have huge customer bases, but have decent salaries available for people who can handle the work. Its not the chilliest job in the world on its face, but it also sorta depends on what stresses you out (Ultimately in my current job, I am just the messenger, which the lack of responsibility for the problems people are complaining about is all I need to divest personal stress)

    When I was considering a career switch though, I just started trolling linked in and readjusting my resume to see where I could fit, while writing down skills I didn’t have to see what were the shortest hops and what was a shot in the dark. Could I take a quick class to fill in a gap? Could I try to get into X task at work to learn Y skill on the job?

    Eventually I had it down to checking particular filters on Linked in and remote work specific sites every day, and scrutinizing new listings and considering every possibility. This helped me get an idea of the gradient of work I was interested in that fell under conditions I could accept.

  169. Nisie*

    I would talk to a vocational evaluator to get a career workup to suggest careers that are reasonable and feasible. Usually, we work with people with disabilities, but there are some who specialize in the private sector.

  170. Allison*

    Look into career counseling places. My local library frequently has seminars and things about finding jobs. Those could connect you with jobs you haven’t heard of before. The community college in my county has something like that too. And it’s for the community, you don’t have to attend the school. Another suggestion, talk to people! Even just random people you kind of know might have ideas. Recently, a facebook friend of mine was in a similar situation. She made a post asking people what they do for a living. It was super interesting! People do all kinds of things I hadn’t thought of before. And if someone says something you find intriguing, ask follow up questions. And honestly, random google searches could be helpful too. “Jobs with a good work/life balance”. “Jobs that require a ___degree”. You might stumble upon something you like the sound of!

  171. Aggie*

    Labor and employment librarian here. This seems really basic but is absolutely a gem resource: the Occupational Outlook Handbook ( maintained by the Department of Labor. Comprehensive listing of every different job according to groupings, what they do, skills required, educational and certification pathways needed to get there.

    What is suggested to us in K-12 or college is usually incredibly narrow.

    Public libraries usually have a few copies on hand.

  172. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    I say sign up on the bigger job boards: LinkedIn and Indeed are good places to start.

    >Search by ZIP code, then filter by things like:
    >>Mile range – Usually 10-20 mile radius is good to start
    >>Full Time
    >>Salary: Let’s say $40-60k which is mid-range
    >>Posted within last month and newest listed first
    >>Save this search as “Local”

    See what that gets you. Save any ones that are of interest to you for reference. Once you have some, you can try some expanded searches based on those job titles. As an example, you might see something like “Communications Specialist” and if you like the job description, your next search might expand to Communications within 5o miles of your ZIP code + all levels and salaries.

  173. Mama Llama Drama*

    One place to start is the who, what, where of the job.

    Who: do you like working with people? animals? children?computers?, etc.

    What: do you like interacting with people all the time? do you want something where you don’t work with people? working with data? researching new topics? number crunching? serving others?, etc.
    (adjacent to this would also be how you do the job – do you like number crunching but want a collaborative environment? do you like doing solo work? do you want to be a generalist or a specialist?,etc.)

    Where (in general): tiny company? big company? in education? in healthcare?

    If you can figure out what things you like initially they might start to lead you toward sectors or job types that you like. From them your can use that to focus in on certain jobs or organizations that have more info. Say you know you want to be in payroll but don’t care what type of place you work or say you know you want to work in something related to healthcare but not sure how – those can lead you to look for things like payroll associations or job postings at hospitals to see what’s out there. From there that might lead you to either people you know or resources to reach out to people for informational interviews/shadowing opportunities. Those are really great opportunities because you get a good sense of what the day to day is like. If you go the route of studying for something seeing it in action/real life can be a good way to gauge how you feel about what you’ll be doing once you’re out of school.

    Also, once you maybe explore how you feel about what kind of job you want to do you may also consider further education like certification or something like that. It can be nice to have for job security so you’re essentially self sufficient if you ever need to look for other work (at least that’s how I felt having done admin work for a while – it can be hard to quantify besides just years if you’re qualified for the job so I wanted to go to school to have something in my back pocket so I could always have that certification to fall back on).

    The other piece is that even if you get closer to what you want to keep in mind the more specific “where” of the company you work for can be a big piece of if you get to clock out at 5 or you have a lot of overtime but then that’s why people leave and go to other places if that job isn’t the right fit. Like if you know you want to be in payroll but the job you’re at is too stressful then you may need to move to a new company but you’re still going to stick with payroll.

    In terms of research I recommend looking for professional organizations if you can find them (but don’t feel obligated to pay for stuff), news articles (sometimes you’ll find interviews or article sources that are doing interesting things), family/friends, college career centers websites, looking at job postings. Maybe getting a job at a temp agency so you can try jobs and companies out without being locked into anything if it’s not the right fit. Another piece I recommend that helped me was reading some self help books (from certified researchers/professionals), one I enjoyed was called Happier and talked about how we view happiness and what makes you happy. It can also be a way to look at that through your work lens. And the other big piece is looking at your work life as a long journey – the job/type of job your find now may not be the one your retire from. So this is just the first step, and then maybe you’ll find something else adjacent to pivot too or that looks interesting.

  174. Mama Llama Drama*

    In terms of research I recommend looking for professional organizations if you can find them (but don’t feel obligated to pay for stuff), news articles (sometimes you’ll find interviews or article sources that are doing interesting things), family/friends, college career centers websites, looking at job postings. Maybe getting a job at a temp agency so you can try jobs and companies out without being locked into anything if it’s not the right fit. Another piece I recommend that helped me was reading some self help books (from certified researchers/professionals), one I enjoyed was called Happier and talked about how we view happiness and what makes you happy. It can also be a way to look at that through your work lens. And the other big piece is looking at your work life as a long journey – the job/type of job your find now may not be the one your retire from. So this is just the first step, and then maybe you’ll find something else adjacent to pivot too or that looks interesting.

    1. Mama Llama Drama*

      Oh no, I wrote a whole big post but it only did part of it! I’ll try to add in the rest later if I can.

  175. Mama Llama Drama*

    Okay here’s my attempt at recreating the first half of my post:
    I would start with this:
    Who: do you want to work with people? animals? children? computers?, etc.

    What: do you like data crunching? interacting with clients? not interacting with clients?, etc.
    a sub question of this is “how”: do you like data crunching but want to do it in a collaborative environment? want to do it solo?, etc.

    where (generally): big company? ,small company?, branch of big company?, university?, hospital?, etc.

    From there, once you get a feel for what you’re interested in I would start looking at things like professional organizations or searching the types of jobs you’re interested in or that have qualities that fit those things. And if you know if there’s a certain job type you want like payroll then I would look at an association for that type of job to get an idea of what that job is like or if you know there’s a sector of job you like looking at a company website to see what kind of jobs they have like looking at the job board for a hospital if you know you want to work in something health care related.this can lead to reaching out to family/friends, or resources for things like informational interviews/shadowing (which also gives you an idea of seeing what the day to day of the job is like).

    If you narrow down what you like you can also look into things like certification or something just so you have that in your back pocket to be self sufficient if you ever have to change around jobs rather than just having to lean on your years of experience and maybe use it for all types of ways doing your job (certified as a teapot detailer but now you’re no longer at big teapot company?hey, you can do that job out of your house for friends of friends to get by till you get hired somewhere else). And the other piece of this is also the more specific “where” of how your company affects things like if you leave at 5 or have a lot of OT. for example, if you know you want to be in payroll but your job is too stressful then you’ll be looking to stay in payroll but need to move to a new company that’s a better fit.

  176. Josh S*

    Oh, I’m late to this comment thread, but there’s a GREAT option for learning about a generalized “what kinds of work is out there”…by the US Government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    It’s called the Occupational Outlook Handbook, and it gives an overview of what the work is, the education/path to get into that field, median income, and much much much much much much more. If something seems interesting at a high level, you can drill in for details. It’s a resource that should be made available to high school students, blasted all over college campuses, and should be at the fingertips of everyone who is contemplating a career switch.

  177. Amethyst*

    OP, I also got a PhD with vague intentions of entering academia, and found my way into industry research afterwards. The real answer is to put your research skills to work in your job and career search.

    The first step is to figure out what you like to do and what you don’t like to do. I think a lot of people get overwhelmed because they start thinking about job titles rather than job duties or tasks. I sat down and wrote a list of the things I really like to do (writing, mentoring, research), the things I don’t mind doing (public speaking) and the things I don’t like and are dealbreakers. In your seven years of work as a writing teacher and your retail job, what are the things you like? What about your hobbies? What things do you never want to do again if you can help it? Some of this is largely about just paying attention to yourself as you are at work, maybe keeping a diary or journal about it. I often stop to note what I really like about my job and what I’m like “If I’m still doing this in 3 years I will be unhappy.” Then you can look at job descriptions more or less indiscriminately – Indeed is a good place to start, as is LinkedIn – and start to form a taxonomy of which jobs match the things you like and mostly don’t have the things you don’t.

    That will allow you to identify a range of roles that you might like, and then you can be more intentional about building a professional network in those areas and looking for jobs. If you live in an urban area, there are likely chapters of professional organizations for those jobs or fields that you can join and socialize with (many have student or associate member rates for people who are trying to break in). Even if you don’t live in an urban area, there may be a chapter, or at minimum they likely have a listserv, LinkedIn group, some other social media or a website or something.

    If you can afford it, go to conferences and events in the field – in many fields, these are even more explicitly about getting hired and networking than academic conferences are. I’m in tech and everyone knows the point of our conferences is to sign deals, meet people, and hire/get hired. The talks are almost incidental. Many of them have expo halls where employers have tables – talking to folks makes a huge difference in industry. Many have scholarships and grants, so look out for those to defray some of the costs.

    And you can cold-call people on LinkedIn. Most of my colleagues and I talk to people who cold-reach-out on LinkedIn all the time – from students interested in learning more to people in related fields looking to make a jump. An informational can help you figure out how to break into a career you want and help you develop relationships with people who may be able to help you get a job down the line. When you start talking to people, you’ll find out which websites have worthwhile job lists and which you can ignore, but LinkedIn is always a good place to start.

    The way you filter for what you want is through interviews. Most of the things you say you want aren’t constrained to a specific type of job or role, but are more dependent on the managers and the company culture. So you do some research on the company via informationals and the Internet, and then when you apply, you ask these questions: “What does your work-life balance look like?” “How are projects assigned here?” “What does feedback and performance evaluation look like on your team?”

    Last thing: either your undergraduate or graduate institution may have a pretty good career center that offers services to alumni. They are rarely helpful for academic careers but can be tremendously helpful for non-academic ones. Join the alumni association – that’s a great place to network – and look to see what kinds of services you can access. My graduate institution did resume reviews, had an internal job search tool, had advisors that would sit with you to help you figure out what you wanted to do, and would even lend you a suit to interview in.

  178. SixTigers*

    When I’d reached a dead-end in my position — it wasn’t a career, it was a job, and I was finding it increasingly unsatisfying for a LOT of different reasons — I thought, “I need to go back to school and get trained in how to do something. This isn’t working!”

    Went into a community college’s career counseling office and took an “interest inventory” test. It asked all kinds of things! I don’t remember what, exactly, but it was along the lines of, did I want to work inside or outside? How much did I want to earn? Did I like working with people? What about animals? Did I want to have a lot of leeway in my job? Was I comfortable with math? Was I curious about things? Am I willing to work evenings or on the weekends? Did I like working with my hands? Did I enjoy discovering how things work? On and on and on, and I filled out all the answers as best I could, and the results were astonishing — but accurate.

    I graduated with a BS in a major that corresponded with what the interest inventory suggested, and I have had an absolute blast ever since. God bless the community colleges, and God save their career counseling offices! Long may they thrive!

  179. Fisher*

    I was in a similar place at the end of a grueling time in grad school. Something that really helped me: I made a Venn diagram (literally drew a big one in OneNote) with three very broad areas I was interested in (e.g. business, policy, marketing). Then I looked at tons of job listings. They all look the same at first, and many were not of interest to me. But sooner or later a job listing or company would pique my curiosity and I’d put it somewhere on the diagram. This helped me map the rarer, in-between/cross-disciplinary/I-didn’t-know-that-was-a-job jobs.

  180. Jovana Jankovic*

    A “highly structured job where work will stay at work, tasks will be clearly communicated, feedback will be given regularly, and no one will ask me to do the work of five people by myself” is not necessarily a “type” of job. Unfortunately, dysfunction is present in all kinds of sectors and industries, and employers will often start exploiting you with extra work once they learn you’re exceptionally competent and responsible. Re: work/life balance, it can help to get a unionized job. Re: structure and communication, just hope your manager and others aren’t jerks/idiots/narcissists. Looking for red or yellow flags during the interview process and asking the right questions (as Allison has often written about) is one of the only ways to know what you’re getting into.

  181. Overeducated*

    A lot of people have said a lot of thoughtful, helpful things.

    The only thing I wish I had asked and understood more directly when searching for my first post-PhD jobs was income potential in different fields. If you do informational interviews, ASK ABOUT SALARIES. Yes it’s awkward. You don’t have to ask an individual what they make, but about salaries in their field. There is SO little transparency.
    And when you’ve been living on a graduate student stipend for years, almost any amount of money sounds like a massive improvement and it’s easy to think “money isn’t important, as long as I have enough to live I’ll be fine.” And then you find out how much housing costs these days. And childcare, if you want kids and/or have managed to squeeze by without full time care. And health insurance, if that was covered by your student package. 50-300% differences in income by field actually do matter.

  182. RobareOwl*

    I’m on my second post-academic career at this point, and while I did eventually finish my degree, a couple of things were useful to me while I was making that first transition.
    1) Networking. I always feel like I am terrible at networking, but: I still got freelance work when a friend of my husband’s had to turn it down, and she asked him if he had anyone to recommend. (This has turned into a long-term relationship and I still do some freelance work for the same client when the opportunity arises.) Then I got a short time position after an interview that went well but didn’t lead to my hiring. I reached back out to the hiring manager, said I really liked the company, and did she have any temporary or contract work. Finally, I was discussing my job-hunting woes with a friend (at her own bridal shower!) and she connected me with her org, which led to a full-time job. These were all in different fields. Your friends can help you connect to companies and jobs, set you up with informational interviews so you can learn more about different fields, etc. Networking doesn’t mean you have to go out there and meet people or hustle folks you don’t know.
    2) This feels really hokey, but I went through What Color is Your Parachute and it really helped me define the kinds of work I was looking for. Not in a specifically identifying job titles sense, but at least eliminating some broad areas of the wide universe of jobs. It was really useful to start constructing an idea of myself, working, outside the academy. Good luck, OP! You have a lot to offer.

  183. Zahra*

    Haven’t read all the comments yet, but thank you so much for this Ask the Readers! My kid and I will be reading them with interest, and, if you ever want to make a similar one but for people who are trying to decide what to study, we’d be all over it too!

  184. Iris Eyes*

    I made a successful career pivot from mostly retail into a job that I would never have known existed in an industry I’d never considered by working with an employment agency. Experience is definitely going to depend on the agency you work with but it could be a way to get exposed to jobs that you wouldn’t have thought you might be a good fit for.

  185. WingedRocks*

    Some questions to ask yourself when you set out on a job search:
    What are your interests? Can you find a job that aligns with a passion of yours? What kind of skills do you have? Could they relate to one of the trade professions like plumber or locksmith? Do you want a new job – or a career path? What matters most – the work itself, or the culture, or the benefits? There’s so much to consider when beginning to search.

    For my last two jobs, it was simply taking a couple hours every day, and applying for any job that seemed like it could meet my own criteria, creating a unique cover letter and tailored resume for each. And I also had to be patient – not my strong suit. Best of luck!

  186. NB*

    Your local community college might have some resources. Especially check with the library. They often have a good collection of career-finding resources.

    I took the StrengthsFinder assessment from Gallup and found it helpful. I don’t think everyone would like it, but I did.

    One of my favorite resources for getting information about jobs is the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In particular, it can be fun to tinker with their Occupation Finder

  187. Hillary*

    Apologies if this is a duplicate – I haven’t had time to read through everything.

    Another way to find out about jobs is to pick a big company and look at their postings. Track your reactions and the titles, plus the skills the ones that sound good need, then repeat more with companies. Once you’ve done enough to see a pattern you can build a reasonably comprehensive list of both work areas and titles that appeal, then those can be the basis for your broader searches.

    If it’s an option, focus on local companies. The way they treat titles like coordinator will reflect your area a lot more than someone across the country.

  188. LBam*

    Has anyone yet suggested software analysis? Similar to tech writing in that you are documenting the software, but somewhat at the other end of the process (instead of documenting what the software DOES for the users, documents what the software SHOULD DO for the developers to build). The nice thing is, though, that you don’t need any one specific set of expertise to break into it. They aren’t paying so much for your writing skills, but for your subject matter expertise on how their customers think. I was a clinical microbiologist working in a hospital lab before I started working for a company that made software for microbiologists. My suggestion would be to think about a somewhat niche software (or product, could be hardware/consumable/etc) that your industry uses and that you’ve got some experience in using something similar, look at companies that make that, and see if they have something titled “software analyst,” “business analyst,” “product manager,” “product owner” (this last one is a very software-specific title). Sometimes also “systems engineer.” Good luck!

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